Finding a Purpose in Volunteering
At 89, Ray Liles spends three days a week volunteering as a tutor at the Los Angeles Dream Center's adult education program. The program enables the center's live-in residents to earn their California high school equivalency certificate for free.
Pastor Matthew Barnett, founder of the Los Angeles Dream Center and senior pastor of Angelus Temple, appointed Matthew Demman to lead the program in 2011. At the time, Barnett announced that the Dream Center was searching for tutors to assist students and expand the program's reach. Demman anticipated receiving a call or two from potential volunteers in the congregation. Instead, 15 people offered to volunteer.
One of the calls came from Marcie Liles. Her father, Ray Liles, was 85 years old at the time and was questioning his reason for living after the death of his wife of 55 years, Barbara. Following the advice of his daughter, who also volunteers at the Dream Center, Liles connected with Demman and decided to volunteer as a tutor.
Four years later, Liles is still actively involved in the program, offering one-on-one assistance to adults preparing for their exams. Some days, Liles conducts as many as four two-hour tutoring sessions and stays until late in the evening.
"I try to give the students as much individual attention as possible," he says.
Despite the fact that the average student entering the Dream Center's GED program has little more than a third-grade education, the Dream Center boasts a 92 percent graduation rate. Demman estimates that Liles has had a direct hand in tutoring more than 80 graduates during his time at the Dream Center.
"I truly believe that our success rate is directly attributable to reinserting Christ into the classroom," Demman says. "Effective adult education would be impossible without this."
Marcie Liles says God has transformed her father, giving him a clear purpose to actively extend the love of Christ despite his age.
"One doctor suggested that I take him to the senior center for bingo," she says. "All he said was, 'Please, no.' "
After spending time in the military during World War II, Liles taught high school math in Los Angeles for 29 years. His sharp wit and dry sense of humor make him a favorite among both students and staff at the Dream Center.
Demman says, "The other day, I asked Ray, 'How's your day going?' and without skipping a beat, he said, 'I'm not here to debate nonsensical philosophical questions.'"
Liles says he values his time as a tutor because everyone who attends his sessions wants to be there, and Liles himself is no exception. Besides his ability to connect with students and help them grasp the material, Liles is an extremely faithful volunteer, taking time off from tutoring only when health issues -- including two recent surgeries -- keep him from his students. Even when he is hospitalized, Liles looks forward to the day he can get back to teaching.
"Sometimes we'll be having a rough day, and then we'll see Ray pushing his walker down the hall on his way to teach," Demman says. "That's all it takes for us to stay motivated."