An Interview with John Kaloumenos

John Kaloumenos (center) surrounded by CIANA clients and staff. Photo: Lena Gran.

Beginning in the summer of 2019, John Kaloumenos has taught Civics classes at CIANA to our adult clients, giving them the tools and knowledge they would need about American history, government, and politics to pass the citizenship test. John also worked with several clients one-on-one, giving them best practices, tips, and interview skills needed to ace the naturalization interview.

From October through December of 2019 alone, five of John's students passed the citizenship test, including Salima Shairzadeh, one of CIANA's long-time clients.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic caused us to suspend our in-person Civics classes. Nevertheless, John still valued his time volunteering at CIANA and the relationships he developed with our clients, which he reflects on here.

How did you hear about CIANA and what motivated you to volunteer as a Civics teacher?

I was looking for a volunteer opportunity on the NYC Service website, specifically involving volunteer work with new immigrants. I read CIANA’s posting regarding an ESL and Civics instructor, and after reading CIANAs mission statement I immediately knew that this was what I wanted to be involved in. This position is very important to me as both of my parents are immigrants from Greece who were faced with many difficulties similar to that of all immigrants.

My grandparents often expressed to me how difficult it was not knowing English and trying to communicate with others. My grandmother worked in a factory during the day, and was able to attend night school where she was taught the English language and prepared for her naturalization. She would often express to me how valuable this experience was to her, and she never forgot the kindness and consideration from the night school teachers that helped her. This allowed her opportunities to make friends with her neighbors and communicate in her job, and feel proud and productive in her new country. This is the impact I want to make on the individuals that I am teaching. The services that CIANA provides are very dear to me and I enjoy volunteering here.

Did your own personal background influence your desire to volunteer in the community?

My family background greatly influenced my desire to volunteer with CIANA. I also wanted to give back to the community of Queens, where my family was able to have the opportunities that afforded them a better life.

Did you have to go through any training or do any research to teach people about the

citizenship exam?

Yes, I researched each topic very thoroughly and made lesson plans for each topic with illustrations and maps to help with learning. I wanted to be accurate and informative about American history and government, as it is very important for an individual who wants to not only pass the citizenship interview but also to know what their rights and responsibilities are as future US citizens who will vote and participate in our democracy. I realized that not every student was at the same level of understanding the English language, so I individualized the lessons which was very helpful.

What are your relationships like with your Civics students?

I developed a wonderful relationship with all my students, which has impacted me in a ver