Virginia Wilson’s life has been about education.
In the latest chapter, she and her daughter, Leesa Mercer, started a year-round program at Life House West Church to help people prepare for the General Education Development, or GED, tests.
The program is also for English as a Second Language, or ESL, students and to tutor children after school.
“I feel that it’s important to invest in people, the person,” Wilson said.
The nonprofit program, called Community Life Institute, has grown exponentially by word-of-mouth.
For her efforts, Wilson has been awarded the Governor’s Service Award and recognized as Washington County’s Volunteer of the Month for April.
Wilson was presented with the governor’s award at a reception on May 9 in Timonium, Md. She also was recognized at the May 1 Washington County Board of Commissioners meeting — which also just happened to be her 64th birthday.
“I was so overwhelmed. Oh my goodness, I was overwhelmed. The outpouring of support is just fantastic,” Wilson said of her awards.
Wilson, who is between jobs, has taught at Hagerstown Business College, now Kaplan University, and Mountain State University, as well as done private tutoring in her Boonsboro home.
At Community Life Institute, she works with students, as well as screening and training facilitators.
There are currently eight facilitators who volunteer their time to work one-on-one with students. There is no charge for the program.
“We don’t charge, because that’s not our mission. We need to educate people. Donations are accepted, but our target audience can’t afford to pay,” Wilson said.
Three students are getting close to taking the GED test. There are 15 ESL students who are working on improving their English language skills.
“My daughter and I started with two students. Now there are 50,” Wilson said.
“When Leesa and I started this, we knew it would grow, but didn’t expect it to grow so quickly. It’s ballooned. I’m just glad I’m here.”
Wilson said that every time a new student walks through the door at 1028 Salem Ave., she stops what she’s doing to talk to them.
“The hardest part is to open that door. One-on-one really builds a rapport,” Wilson said.
Once a student has been assessed, regular appointment times are set up to accommodate their work and family schedules.
“We start where they are, instead of where they say they are,” Wilson said.
Wilson is at the church from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Saturday mornings.
“We need contributions. I’d like to say we operate on a shoestring, but we don’t have a shoestring,” said Wilson, who notes that they are using decades-old resource books, along with other donated materials.
She is hoping the institute will be able to get some financial grants, but they need donations and volunteers now.
Wilson said she would like to add at least eight more facilitators, who could volunteer one to eight hours a week.
“You don’t have to have a degree in education to be a facilitator, just the desire and patience. I think we teach every day,” Wilson said.
For more information, call Virginia Wilson at 240-347-6237.