Rewards add up for volunteer at Good Shepherd

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

Karen Dille fell into her volunteer role as a math tutor for girls and young women at Good Shepherd Children and Family Services' maternity shelter, and she's glad she did.

Dille is certainly qualified — she taught at St. Joseph's Academy and Ritenour High School, was a tutor and helped open Grand Center Arts Academy — and she's full of enthusiasm.

Dille, 63, had some orthopedic surgery two years ago and intended to go back to work eventually. Her daughter, Colleen Dille, is educational coordinator at Good Shepherd and asked her mother to come aboard for a while as a tutor. Hooked by the rewards of helping the girls, Dille won't soon give it up.

"Some are struggling in their math classes, some just need to be hand held and pushed a little bit," Dille said of the role she takes a couple times a week. She tutors girls taking high school classes and those seeking their GED degrees.

The teens welcome her help and value it, but it takes away the little free time they have without their babies. One who had a test coming up asked Dille why she enjoys math. Dille explained that when she was young she learned the times tables at the same time as her older sister, so she was ahead of her classmates. Ever since then she has enjoyed numbers because she was good at it.

The girl said that when she made mistakes in math she was punished, so she doesn't like math.

"But she's really pretty good at it," Dille said. "I told her I wish I had her when she was younger because I could have helped her through it. She's really smart and picks it up quick."

The girls are happy when they understand a lesson, realizing it isn't as bad as they thought. "So many kids struggle with math and hate it because of the struggles but once they understand it they like it," she said. The girl who was punished may not be at that point yet, but she's more confident now and wants to do well. She was eager for a quiz because of her tutor's help.

A lot of the times they have the ability but the help they've received has been lacking, with their teachers and their families not able or not willing to put in the extra effort to help them or to follow up on them.

Dille's role is to help them get caught up on their schoolwork, pass their courses and graduate. She told a girl who wants to become a nurse or work in the medical field that "you're going to need that math. We don't want you to just pass the class, we want you to understand and learn it so you can go on to college or nursing school and be successful there so you can raise your baby and have an income."

She's also a "sounding board" for them, listening to their struggles. Last year she had a girl who was unhappy at home, school or even at Good Shepherd. Age 18, she didn't know her times tables. Dille worked with her on the math but also with her attitude.

"Helping them want to learn is the key," Dille said. "A lot of them don't care to learn, they just want to get through. I want them to want to learn also, so they can go on, further their education, get a good job so they're not in the position they're in," the tutor said.

The year Dille's daughter started working at Good Shepherd, her mom learned that a need still existed for a person or group to gather Christmas gifts for the girls and their babies in a maternity residence. Dille and her daughter enlisted the help of their relatives, and they not only filled the need but still take part in the annual Christmas program.

Dille's parish, Christ the King in University City, and its Mini Vinnies youth also collect items for the residents at Good Shepherd.

"There's opportunities out there all the time" to help Good Shepherd, Dille said.

Dille is involved at her parish and with child care for the parents attending the Cornerstone Bible Study at St. Joseph Parish in Clayton. She also helps with the Women in Charge program, which helps women with educational and other needs.

Her husband, David, recently became a deacon, and he volunteers at Good Shepherd coordinating Masses at the chapel. 

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