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 | By Nancy Rosebush Schertzing

Nicole and Taylor Tutor at-risk Students

Helping Kids in a Way That ‘Can Honestly Change the Rest of Their Lives’

The old saying goes: To teach is to shape the future. Nicole and Taylor Villarreal are proving that saying every week at St. Therese of Lisieux Parish’s open doors tutoring program.

“I had an amazing kindergarten teacher, Katy Rios, who helped me in a lot of ways,” Nicole recalls. “After she retired from the Lansing schools, she started the Open Doors Tutoring Program at our parish, along with Leslie Ozanich and Dave Borzenski. I loved learning from Katy so much, I decided to volunteer.

“Open Doors serves pre-kindergarten to sixth-graders on a drop-in basis. Some kids walk over after school, some have their parents drop them off. Even before COVID, many were at risk of falling behind grade level. They get a couple of 45-minute sessions of one-on-one time with different tutors, though, on busy days, we might help multiple kids at a time.

“The center is a form of outreach St. Therese offers to the neighborhood. It’s a good way to use the old school building and to develop relationships with the parents as well.”

Taylor recalls, “In eighth grade, I needed to do volunteer hours for my confirmation. I volunteered to assist in the kindergarten-first grade religious education (RE) class at St. Therese — both to get hours and because our cousins were starting to join the RE program themselves. It was a great opportunity to be able to work with and teach them, while at the same time earning my service hours.

“Two years later, when she started the confirmation process, Nicole signed up for the second-grade classroom so she could earn her service hours and continue to work with our cousins as they moved through the program. I stayed on with the little ones because I really enjoy that age.

“Tutoring last year, I had a pre-kindergartener who needed help because his writing was sloppy and rushed. I suggested he practice writing his name five times while I watched. He picked up his pencil, then looked me in the eye. ‘OK,’ he said. ‘But can I ask you a question first? What’s your favorite color?’ After I told him my favorite color was purple, he settled in and did the writing.

“A few weeks later, I got to tutor him again. When I started to introduce myself, he said, ‘I know. You’re Taylor and your favorite color is purple.’ He made me laugh and feel kind of proud at the same time.”

Nicole nods. “I really like math, and I know I can get others to like it, too. But sometimes I don’t have to. A couple of weeks ago, I tutored a 9-year-old who has been coming to the tutoring center since it opened. This time, she was working on math, so we began adding and subtracting. Pretty quickly, she told me she could do that already. What she really wanted was to work on multiplication.

“We went through a few of her multiplication tables, and she went pretty high before she needed my help. Eventually, she asked if we could just play a game. We have some great ones at the tutoring center because many of our volunteers are retired teachers who have donated their classroom tools. We played Countdown until it was time to leave. She really enjoyed applying her math skills to try to win.”

“Working at the tutoring center is fun,” Taylor adds, “and it’s also a great way to learn from master teachers. It has definitely helped me prepare for my career in education. This fall, I started my student teaching in a second-grade classroom at Winans Elementary in the Waverly School District. I think a lot of my inspiration to become a teacher came from my experiences at St. Therese.”

Nicole smiles, “I actually had a math teacher in sixth grade — Mrs. Crowley — who had a way of making you feel like you weren’t behind in her class. She had an attitude like ‘Everyone can do this.’ Because of her, I began to see that I could solve math problems too. Now I am a senior at Michigan State University in the College of Engineering.

“I am not planning to go into education like Taylor, but tutoring and teaching RE have been great ways to give back to our parish. At St. Therese, you feel like you’re part of a family, so we both feel it’s important to contribute.”

Taylor adds, “But you don’t have to be part of St. Therese to become a tutor at the center. In fact, don’t feel like you have to be great at math or English. Just your time and presence are enough. Being there will help the kids in a way that can honestly change the rest of their lives.”

To learn more or to volunteer as a tutor, go to