Florence Phillips (Guatemala, Jamaica, Kenya) is still volunteering. You can too!


Florence Phillips (Guatemala, Jamaica, Kenya 1988-99)

Born in New York to Jewish parents who fled Europe before the holocaust, RPCV Florence Phillips knows firsthand what is like to be the child of immigrants who don’t speak English.

“My parents could not talk to my teachers; my parents could not help me with homework,” said Phillips.

But all of that would change when she joined the Peace Corps.

Florence served three tours of duty as a Peace Corps Volunteer in three different countries.

1988 – 1989 PCV Guatemala

Organized 12 Mayan Indian women in a small village and assisted them in forming a cooperative weaving business. Established local and tourist markets for their products.

1990 – 1992 PCV Jamaica

Small Enterprise Development and Business Advisor. Secondary projects established included teaching remedial reading and tutoring at primary school level; organized sport activities; taught adult literacy.

1997 – 1999 PCV Kenya

Small Enterprise Development and Business Advisor. Taught Basic Business Skills in technical schools, individuals and groups on how to start or expand a business.

​During her tours, she learned first-hand how difficult it is for a foreigner to learn the local language, and to be able to understand the locals, especially while also working.

When she returned home to the United States, Florence was frustrated by people writing into the newspapers complaining that “these immigrants coming into our country should be speaking English.” Remembering her time abroad and her childhood experience with immigrant parents, she knew that “these people” wanted to learn English but had many obstacles, such as transportation, money, and resources.

“Florence,” I said to myself, “you don’t have to leave Nevada. You can do right here, what you were doing in other countries,”

In 2004, she launched the English Language Learners In-Home Program. A nonprofit that provides free ESL, citizenship, GED and computer classes.

What started as a group of 24 tutors helping 41 students has grown to an organization serving more than 8,500 learners.

“I said, we will come to your home, no transportation is needed. My parents didn’t have transportation. They had to travel by subway in New York to get to a class,” said Phillips. There’s no certain days and times. I eliminated that because most learners like my parents had two to three jobs to survive.”

The classes are one on one and follow the learner’s availability.

For more than a decade ESL In-Home Program of Northern Nevada has helped more than 8,000 adult learners in becoming more secure and independent by learning to speak, read, write and understand English.

The classes are one on one and follow the learner’s availability.

After being recognized as CNN hero in 2018, Phillips program gained even more popularity and with the pandemic sending life online, the classes have expanded to more than 40 states and 20 plus countries.

“That’s all it takes…. two sessions a week, one hour each session to help somebody become self-sufficient,” said Phillips. “This is what the American dream is all about.”

The calls for tutoring help and student applications continue piling up daily. At 93, Phillips, founder and executive director of the program, doesn’t know how to ignore them, but knows she also needs more help. That’s why she’s looking for an organization or someone to pass the torch to soon.

For information about donating to support literacy or becoming a volunteer tutor, visit www.eslinhome.org.

If you have any questions, call 775-888-2021. You can also email Phillips at florence.phillips@eslinhome.org.



Leave a comment
  • A stirring lesson for us all… there’s lots of time left for most of us. Amazing life of
    commitment and ingenuity.

  • Congratulations, Florence, on your inspiring life story including three Volunteer tours of duty in different countries. Your lifetime of service brings to mind that of Jack Allison, a health Volunteer in Malawi in the late 1960s, who used his gift for music to create health-focused songs for his students and community, and continues to give with his music. Most recently, Jack got his song “Wash Your Hands with Soap” into NPR for use in its pandemic programming.

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