HASTINGS, Neb. (AP) — It’s not unusual to see Lesa Kautz reading with a child or adult, attending a meeting on multicultural issues in Hastings, delivering care packages of food to children or establishing new programs at her church.
And while some may wonder if Kautz is going a little overboard with her volunteering, she can tell you a story about how she became involved with each organization and each social issue.
“As I thought about the things I’m involved in, I realize I have a passion for each one,” she told the Hastings Tribune (http://bit.ly/11jb5xZ). “I don’t get involved in things I don’t care about. Each one of these things has a meaning and a special place.”
Part of the start to her volunteer involvement goes back to her heritage. Her mother, who is of Mexican descent, was born in the United States to migrant workers who traveled the country taking on agricultural jobs. Kautz, who works at Five Points Bank, said she has a hard time imagining those days when there was no Head Start, English as a Second Language or migrant worker programs to help adults and children alike to learn English in this country.
Growing up in a home with a Mexican mother and a father of German and Irish descent, Kautz never learned much Spanish, as her mom always spoke English in the home. Yet as an adult, Kautz admits she still has a soft spot for English Language Learners and always wants to help those people willing to learn.
When one of her sons was in high school, Kautz contacted the Hastings Literacy Program to see if her son, who was learning Spanish, could help tutor someone trying to learn English. Her son eventually became too busy with other summer commitments and Lesa decided to take on the task of helping a 65-year-old Cuban man to improve his English skills by reading the newspaper and just talking.
“We became the best of friends and still are,” Kautz said. “Now, he speaks English very well. He and his wife, who came here two or three years after that, are both U.S. citizens.
Eventually, Kautz became more involved with the Literacy Program and joined its board of directors in January 2011. While she became close friends with her first client at HLP, Kautz is quick to say the work she does with students through the English Language Learners program at Hastings Public Schools is her first love in volunteering.
Her job is simply to sit with an individual student and read books, fill out worksheets or just have conversations in English to help that child garner a better grasp of the language.
During the 2012-13 school year, Lesa was paired with a boy at Lincoln Elementary.
“It just evolved to where I would stop at the library and pick up books I knew he would be into — Martin Luther King Jr. and athletes and Michael Jordan. We just sat on a sofa in the loft of Lincoln Elementary and just read.”
Kautz said she never put pressure on the boy to read for speed or accuracy. She just wanted him to enjoy what he was reading and ask her questions if he had any along the way. At the end of the school year, Kautz learned that the boy’s reading comprehension and retention scores had increased dramatically over the course of the year — something that could, at least partially, be attributed to her help.
Being married to a teacher and administrator, Kautz said people have always wondered if she’s a teacher by trade. She’s the wife of Hastings Public Schools Superintendent Craig Kautz.
Lesa said the joy she receives from working one-on-one with someone is something she could never give up.
“Even if I only did one thing and read one hour a week with a kid, that would be all I’d need to do,” she said. “If I had to give it all up, that’s one thing I would not give up.”