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National Volunteer Month: Curtis Sylvester, Civics Instructor

April is National Volunteer Month! We want to take this month to spotlight some of our volunteers, past and present, whose dedication to community service allows CIANA to serve immigrant communities through a wide array of programs and services.

To kick off the month of celebrating our volunteer team, we want to spotlight our Civics class instructor, Curtis Sylvester!

Since the autumn, Curtis has taught Civics to our adult clients, introducing American history, politics, and government to those preparing to take the citizenship exam. He shares his reflection teaching at CIANA below.

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

I wanted to investigate volunteering to teach civics, and started to surf the internet to see what I would need to do to become a volunteer. I was lucky to spot a link to CIANA's website and a phone number.

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

I recently retired from a career in finance at an insurance company that was staffed by people of many nationalities. Just by having some friendly conversation with some of these people, I found out that they had taken or at some point planned to apply for US citizenship. One described the civics part of the examination. I thought that I would enjoy teaching civics to people who wanted to become citizens to help them achieve that goal.

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

I have always enjoyed social studies, and I fondly remember my own civics instruction as a student in high school. But, I do not have a background in teaching or in social studies, so I needed to review the USCIS materials and the educational materials prepared by previous CIANA civics instructors. I have also begun the process of taking some courses online. I recently completed one called "Civic Engagement in American Democracy".

What are your relationships like with your Civics students?

I am greatly enjoying the personal contact involved in explaining ideas involved in civics. When students ask a question, or know the answer to a question, it is a great feeling! I am so happy to be helping people achieve such an important goal as becoming citizens of the U.S. It is my hope that, along with that goal, I can make the relationship friendly, informal, and fun!

What have you learned that’s meaningful in the process of teaching?

Teaching is a new experience for me. I am finding that it is a great way to connect in a meaningful way with other people. I hope that people in the class are finding the experience personally enriching, as I do, and look forward to the class as I do!


Some of Curtis’ former students have passed the citizenship exam and taken the next steps in their journey towards becoming U.S. citizens.

All of us at CIANA are grateful to Curtis for his time and devotion to educating our adult clients. Thank you Curtis!

To learn more about CIANA’s virtual adult Civics class, call us at (718) 545-4040, or email

For current volunteer opportunities at CIANA, visit


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