CORE’s Cheerleader: Volunteer Maya Skaff Talks Up CORE
May 26, 2020
by Jane Hess Collins
Maya Skaff can’t stop talking about Computer CORE. Although she just began as a volunteer classroom instructor for the nonprofit last September, she has served as its cheerleader and advocate for years in her job as the Community Liaison for Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), where she connects new families with Fairfax County resources.
When she met a Computer CORE staff member in 2012, Maya was immediately drawn to the nonprofit’s mission and compassion for students. Computer CORE was the perfect solution, she thought, for the many families she met through her liaison work who were computer illiterate.
“Part of my job is to connect parents with the appropriate school and community personnel and resources. For example, if a family needs to learn English, I offer them resources for ESOL classes,” said Maya, who is also an instructional assistant at Langston Hughes Middle School in Reston. “If they have a special needs child, I connect them with particular school or community resources depending on the child’s age and need. So if I saw that a family struggled with computer literacy, I would offer them the computer classes and connect them with Computer CORE.” She estimates that over the years she and her co-workers have referred “hundreds” of people to Computer CORE.
Last fall, Maya decided to volunteer with Computer CORE. They needed an instructor in Herndon, which was close to her home. The evening hours, twice a week for the 18 weeks between September and January, fit in nicely with her daytime job.
“It was so much fun and such a rich experience,” Maya shared. “I felt like we were one family and I loved each and every one of them. We had such a great relationship, sharing one another’s culture, traditions, and food, and I got to learn so many wonderful and interesting things.”
She loved engaging with her students, who immigrated from Iran, Cambodia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Turkey, Jamaica, Sudan, and other countries, and she empathized with their struggles: Maya earned a master’s degree in social work and speaks English, French and Arabic, her native language. She is Lebanese and met her husband in the States. After immigrating to this country, she had a difficult time finding professional work as she struggled with learning the language.
Many Computer CORE students, she said, are also highly educated and had worked professionally in their home countries, but English proficiency and a lack of computer skills prevent them from finding equivalent work in Northern Virginia. “I remember one student who was a great plumber that didn’t know how to move the mouse when he started,” she said.
Maya still keeps in touch with her students and remembers them fondly. She recalled one student, a grandmother from Jamaica, who also struggled as an immigrant. Maya offered support and a little tough love, saying “We are holding you up with care and love. You must be patient, we understand your frustration, and we are trying to help you out. This country offers us so many great opportunities that are hard to find elsewhere.”
This moment, Maya said, was a turning point in this student’s life. Everyone in class noticed the big change in her attitude, as she became more positive and contributed more as a member of the group. “Believe me, we became good friends,” Maya added.
“I really love my students, and I love the spirit of Computer CORE,” Maya concluded. “I am very impressed by the educational material and the courses provided, and the way people in the program are respected and treated. In my opinion, this is one of the most fundamental and essential forms of educational that we can offer a newcomer to this country.”
Author Jane Hess Collins is a communications consultant and coach, and the founder and executive director of Heard, a nonprofit that brings creativity and life skills to people in need. www.heardnova.org