Home of Wheaton Bible Church's Quarterly Magazine
by Dave Thomson
Although he spent almost 30 years working as a wireless telecommunications engineer for such corporate giants as Motorola, Siemens, and Bell Laboratories, Gary Lambrecht always thought that someday he would be a teacher. “I love math and I love young people,” he says, “so I thought I might like to teach it someday at the college or university level. Many years ago I even tutored college calculus part-time.” Now the former Senior Director of Engineering for Motorola is teaching elementary students at Puente del Pueblo’s after-school program, Puente del Niño. And he’s loving it!
The idea of volunteering at Puente was first planted during a worship service, when Gary and his wife, Faith, heard about Puente del Niño and the need for volunteer tutors.
At that time, Gary was consulting with various businesses after his position at Motorola was one of thousands eliminated in a massive downsizing. At his wife’s suggestion, Gary signed up to help with the after-school program. So from February to June last year, Gary taught two days a week at Puente del Niño, which translates “bridge of the child.”
The program takes place at Wegner School, located next to the Timber Lake Apartment complex and home of Puente del Pueblo. Students in the after-school program are divided into three classes: first and second grade, third and fourth grade, and fifth and sixth grade. Each classroom has a teacher and up to three tutors.
Not a Spanish speaker, Gary worked most naturally with the older students, who were more fluent in English.
He was surprised at how much he enjoyed tutoring. “I loved the kids and saw what a difference those three hours after school made,” Gary said.
When the school year ended, Gary learned that the program had an opening for a part-time teacher, and he felt God was leading him to consider the position. “Throughout my life God has given me clear signs to confirm what He wants me to do,” said Gary. “So why should things be any different with this? I asked God for a sign about the job.”
A few weeks later, when Puente del Niño’s director, Lilia Salazar, invited Gary to teach math during the week-long Back to School summer program. Gary signed on. One day, near the end of that week, he was at the whiteboard doing a long division problem for the class. Before he finished the exercise, “a light went on” for a sixth grader named Gilberto, who was so excited that he stood, raised both arms straight up in the air, and shouted, “You should be our teacher!” Gary got his sign, and Lilia got a new part-time teacher.
Today Gary teaches sixteen upper elementary students five days a week. “I get to the Puente office around 1:30 to prepare lessons for the day,” says Gary. “Class begins at 2:45 and ends at 5:30. On Monday through Thursday, the three hours are divided into four parts. We complete homework assignments, read, do grade- and subject-related worksheets, and have some sort of physical activity in the gym.
“Friday is voluntary for the students, because on Friday we add forty-five minutes of Christian education by shortening class and gym time,” he adds. “However, everybody attends. We learn and memorize a Bible verse, and one of us, either a teacher or a tutor, shares a Bible story or a life lesson that relates to the Gospel. The students always enjoy the question-and-answer session at the end. They are very interested and responsive.”
On Fridays Gary also runs La Tiendita (in English, “The Little Store”). Students earn “behavior” dollars to spend at the store by exhibiting any of eighteen positive characteristics throughout the week. Each is worth 10 cents, so it is possible to earn as much as $9 in Little Store currency each week. Puente staff and volunteers stock the store with all sorts of items, from sports equipment to silk ties—items that have been donated, purchased at close-out prices, and obtained from discount stores. “The store promotes good behavior, teaches business fundamentals, and is just plain fun,” says Gary.
Talk to Gary about his experience at Puente del Niño for a few minutes, and you’ll learn that “fun” is just one of many reasons volunteers come back day after day. “It provides me with the good feeling that I can and am making a difference in the lives of the students, as well as their parents and teachers. I thrive in situations like this when I can help others, utilize my God-given skills, and satisfy my hunger for math, science, and technology.
“God is using Puente to change the lives of everyone involved,” Gary says.“Ultimately, the after-school program is about God, and all the glory is His.”
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