Here’s a follow-up to our December 20 cover story on the Literacy Volunteers of Mercer County, and a report on a foul-up that is a wonderful example of technology — as our friend Edward Tenner likes to say — biting back at us.
The foul-up: The December 20 cover story was our annual Helping Hands feature, focussed on two professional people with full-time jobs who somehow make time to volunteer their services to a good cause. This year we chose Literacy Volunteers of Mercer County and two volunteers, law firm administrator Paula Rossi and ETS fraud investigator Michael Thiel.
So far so good. In choosing the photos for the story we had no trouble picking out Paula Rossi, but when picking the Thiel picture we had to select from several photos that also included others working on behalf of the Literacy Volunteers. In the old days the reporter, Kevin Carter, would have brought his story by the office and asked to see the photos. The photographer, Craig Terry, would have dropped off his pictures in person and then conferred with the editor selecting the photos to actually run.
But neither of those two ever came by the office. Carter E-mailed his article; Terry sent his digital images via CD. Here at the office we made an assumption (big mistake) and picked the wrong man to represent Thiel on the cover of the paper and again on the page where the story began inside the paper.
The man whose photo did run turns out to be Donald F. Harris, a teacher of English as a second language who has been volunteering with this organization since last June. Harris showed up at our office the very next day with a smile on his face to a.) thank us for publicizing the work of the Literacy Volunteers; and b.) graciously inform us of our misidentification. We apologized on the spot and again now for this glaring error.
And here is the follow up to the foul-up — Don Harris’s own interesting story.
A native of Lawrenceville, Harris’s father was a corrections officer and his mother was the head of a state agency in charge of mental health care. After graduating from Lawrence High School, he earned a mechanical engineering degree from Rutgers University in 1986 and an MBA from the Rutgers Graduate School of Management.
Harris had faithfully attended church but says it was only when he ran into difficulties that he committed his life to Jesus Christ. “In high school I had been a top student, but the Rutgers engineering curriculum was way more difficult,” he says. “After beating my head against a wall for two years, and having some unsatisfying relationships, I was broken, tired, and defeated,” he says, “and I cried out to Jesus for help. That’s when the light bulb went on.”
He was 21 at the time. His grades improved, and after graduation — as had been his long-term plan — he started studying full time for his MBA that summer. Then he worked for eight years as an aerospace engineer for the Department of the Navy. Changing careers, for the next eight years he was a math teacher, both at Calvary Christian Academy in Philadelphia and at the American Boychoir School.
But all along, says Harris, in his heart, he was a missionary. “I had the love of Jesus in my heart.” In 1992 he had his first missionary experience, going with the Calvary Church of Philadelphia to Appalachia, followed by summer mission work in Mexico and Guatemala.
“I live in the Polish area of south Lawrence, and I was sharing Jesus with my neighbors,” says Harris. He studied the language in Poland in the summers of 2003 and 2004 and taught English during the 2004-2005 school year. “But that was my disguise,” says Harris. “I really went as a missionary.”
Harris attends Calvary Chapel Crossfields, which meets at Crossroads North Middle School in South Brunswick, and he also attends a Spanish-speaking service in Yardville. Before he had funded his missionary work with his savings and investments. Now he is selling his home and aims to attend a Bible school affiliated with Calvary Chapel in Chile or Peru. “I don’t necessarily want to learn about doctrine,” says Harris. “I want to learn about Jesus and his word.”
In the meantime, he hones his English teaching skills as a volunteer. “I like being in a room where I hear Polish and Chinese and see different skin tones, hair textures and facial features,” says Harris. “I like being in that setting, and people are very appreciative of the help that is being provided. It’s a rewarding experience.”
Literacy Volunteers offers a seven-session training course on Tuesday, January 9, at 10 a.m. at its office on Quakerbridge Road. An evening course begins Tuesday, February 13, from 6 to 9 p.m., at Educational Testing Service on Rosedale Road. Call 609-587-6027.
Also in the clarifications and corrections department: In the cover story on December 20, the name of volunteer Paula Rossi’s student, Natasha Kishchenko, was spelled incorrectly, and June Vogel, executive director of LVMC, had taught piano for 27 years.
In a December 20 Survival Guide story, Don Sutaria’s name was spelled incorrectly. In a photo caption, Larry Krampf’s company affiliation was identified incorrectly. Our own Richard K. Rein, who wrote the caption, protested that Krampf’s firm used to be called Krampf Communications, as he called it in the caption. It was, but that was back in the 1980s; since then it has been called the Princeton Communications Group.
A November 29 Survival Guide article on the New Pathways to Teaching program at Mercer County College incorrectly spelled the name of Thomas Vona, formerly a teacher at Allentown High School.