"If it's so hard for new immigrants to learn English in Los Angeles, how would people manage in Mongolia?"
At 16, Ellie Wen of Beverly Hills, CA, launched an online collection of famous poetry, prose and speeches and accompanying audio clips to help English language learners worldwide. In 2004, Ellie was one of ten national winners of The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, an annual award that "honors outstanding young leaders who have made a significant positive difference to people and our planet".
What kind of philanthropic or volunteer work do you do?
Ellie: I created a website to help people of all ages and in all corners of the world learn English.
What is the name and location of the organization?
Ellie: The website is called www.RepeatAfterUs.com. Most of the volunteers live in the Los Angeles area and go to my high school, Harvard-Westlake.
Tell us about the project, especially who benefited from this work.
Ellie: RepeatAfterUs.com offers over 6,000 copyright-free texts (famous poems, quotes, short stories, dramatic excerpts, historical essays, Presidential Inaugural Addresses, etc.) together with over 1,300 audio clips. It has been used by teachers and students of English as a Second Language, librarians and administrators of adult literacy programs, Peace Corps volunteers with limited resources, and so on.
What inspired you to get involved?
Ellie: I was tutoring Hispanic children at Las Familias del Pueblo, a one-room community center in the garment "sweatshop" district downtown, when it suddenly hit me: If it's so hard for new immigrants to learn English in Los Angeles, how would people manage in Mongolia?
How did you first get involved? Give us some details.
Ellie: I submitted a proposal to my school's Community Service Director, Ms. Jan Stewart, who immediately saw the potential and approved of RepeatAfterUs.com as a Student Initiated Outreach Project. This meant that classmates who helped me with the recordings could get community service hours to meet our school's requirements.
What is/was the best thing about your experience?
Ellie: It's great to feel useful.
What is/was the hardest part?
Ellie: Rebuilding the site after it crashed within the first month of its being launched.
What was the biggest surprise?
Ellie: The generosity of total strangers. For instance, one teacher, Mrs. E.L. Felder, read about RepeatAfterUs.com in the Los Angeles Times and started recording for the site. So far, she's done The Return of Sherlock Holmes and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (all 24 chapters of it, all by herself!).
What new things have you learned as a result of your experience and how have you changed as a result?
Ellie: I'm much better at managing time and asking for help. I feel better about my abilities and have grown more confident.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of getting involved in philanthropy or volunteering?
Ellie: DO IT! And don't be afraid to ask for help -- from friends, family, strangers, the world!
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