DeKALB – When George Gutiérrez first came to America from Peru in 1955, he only knew a few English phrases.
In 2000, Gutiérrez received a doctorate in counseling and adult continuing education from Northern Illinois University. His dissertation was written in English.
Gutiérrez also holds a master’s degree in history from the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. He became an United States citizen in 1973.
Gutiérrez taught at NIU for 36 and a half years and retired in 2003 as the director of the Office of University Resources for Latinos.
Gutiérrez continues to educate the community. He is the president of Love and Faith in Action, a nonprofit organization that teaches free GED, ESL, career orientation and college preparation, drivers education and immigration and U.S. citizenship classes. The free classes are held from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays until May 23 at 330 Grove St. in DeKalb.
In 2006, he was ordained as a pastor within the Wesleyan Church. He also is a chaplain at the DeKalb County Jail in Sycamore, where he visits and counsels inmates once or twice a week and leads the jail church service the fourth Sunday of the month.
Gutiérrez met with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton to discuss Love and Faith in Action, the classes offered and how community members can get involved.
Milton: Tell me about your ESL classes.
Gutiérrez: We divide students into classes based on skill. They fill out a form asking how well they can read, speak, write and understand English. We also ask why they want to take the class: to speak with family, talk in the community, help children with homework or for a job or college. Children are learning English in school, but some parents say that they are losing their kids. The kids know English, their kids’ friends know English, but the parents don’t. The parents need to catch up and learn more English, too. We offer free childcare during classes, so parents can come and learn.
Milton: What about classes for younger students?
Gutiérrez: I want to create a class that’s just for teenagers. They can bring homework, book reports, math questions. If they do well in school, they won’t drop out. I want to help them to like school and do well. Then they can go to college. I spend a lot of time counseling young Latinos in jail. I tell them they are not washed out. They can go back to school, get a GED. They’re in for doing a stupid thing. They should be in school.
Milton: Why do you help these youth?
Gutiérrez: I want to keep telling them that you can keep going. Write a sentence, a paragraph, then an essay. If you can write an essay, you can apply to a local community college. The key is not to stop. Don’t stop, keep learning and writing and you can get an education.
Milton: Why are the classes you offer important?
Gutiérrez: We are helping the community. There are 10,000 to 12,000 Latinos in DeKalb County, most are Mexicans. That is a lot of people. We offer a number of classes: ESL, GED, drivers education, immigration and career and college orientation. I also offer family counseling.
Milton: Tell me about the recent donations that you received.
Gutiérrez: I took fliers to the Suter Company in Sycamore, wanting them to give the fliers to their workers after my visit. They gave us $500, without my asking, without doing anything. They just gave to help us. The money will be used to purchase new books. When I took fliers to Nestle, they gave us a lot of things for the kids. I would like to acknowledge and thank these businesses for their donations.
Milton: How do you help immigrants, both legal and illegal?
Gutiérrez: We teach immigrant and citizenship classes. Some people are being deported. I can write to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and describe their characteristics. I tell them about the person’s personality, that they are taking English classes. It’s a very delicate subject. Once, I tried to help a young man from Mexico. He met an American girl, married and had three children. He was on the deportation list, and people came from Chicago to send him back to Mexico. I told them, if you take the father, who works and supports his family, his wife and three kids will end up on public aid. It would be more expensive to send him back than to let him stay. But it was too late, they couldn’t change the decision. He went back to Mexico.
Milton: Who can be involved, volunteer or take classes?
Gutiérrez: The community is very helpful. NIU sends students to help with classes. We are always looking for volunteers, and you don’t have to be bilingual to help. People in the classes aren’t just Latinos. There have been NIU students from China, Africa and the Middle East. The classes are for everyone, anyone who needs help.
Milton: Why the name “Love and Faith in Action?”
Gutiérrez: I chose the name because of a quote from the Bible, James 2:17 to 18. It says that you know my faith because of my works. I want to serve the community. If I can be a blessing to someone today, that’s what I’m going to do. That’s my goal.
Milton: Why did you first come to the United States?
Gutiérrez: I came from Peru for university. Coming to the U.S. after high school was like a dream to me. I learned some English in school. I grew up in the Amazon, next to Brazil. Most of my friends knew Portuguese. My dad was a pharmacist, he took care of people and delivered babies. He took care of local tribes, and he knew eight tribal languages. He was a linguist, a very smart person. I get from him my love of service to the people.
Milton: Did you always want to be a teacher?
Gutiérrez: I wanted to be a dentist. My dad was similar to a doctor, dispensed medication and helped people. Once, a dad brought his son, who was bleeding from his leg. He was shot and my dad had to cut the bullets out of his leg with no anesthesia. Another man came with a toothache, a lot of pain in his mouth. My dad pulled some of his teeth. I originally wanted to be a dentist because of that experience. But my guidance counselor told me that if I were a dentist, I’d have to look at mouths my whole life. I’d rather help people another way.
Milton: Were you fluent in English when you arrived in the U.S.?
Gutiérrez: When I arrived in the U.S., I only had two weeks until classes started. It took me about two years to really understand the language. The first semester of English, I got a C. Then the next, a B. Then I got better and better. I worked very hard. When I wrote my dissertation, it was in English.