Volunteer Spotlight: James Rankine

Digital Literacy Volunteer James Rankine working at Frederick Douglass Library.
Digital Literacy Volunteer James Rankine working at Frederick Douglass Library.

“Volunteering has changed my life in that it’s made me appreciate a lot of things I once had taken for granted,” Literacy Rochester volunteer James Rankine reflects. “My mom was a teacher so literacy was baked into my life. I’ve realized that it’s not a standard experience for people.”

Jim moved to Rochester from a small town near Brisbane, Australia in 2013. Currently a graduate student at the University of Rochester, he is writing his dissertation on the history of piracy in the Atlantic.

Since mid-2018, Jim has volunteered with Literacy Rochester as an Instructional tutor and as a Digital Literacy volunteer. He says he loves volunteering because “It’s a mutually beneficial exercise; it helps me as much I help them” (the adults he works with).

Jim came to Literacy Rochester because volunteering as a tutor made sense to him. He wanted to share the instructional skills he accrued over what he refers to as “years of tremendous privilege”; tutoring was a carryover from the four years he spent in Istanbul and Turkey teaching English and it matched his skills, interests, and passions.

“Literacy is a gateway for employment; empowerment; humans flourishing beyond economic, legal, and utility benefits. It’s a deeper, more profound level on which to engage.” Jim reflected. “Students at Literacy Rochester are genuinely there to engage with learning and knowledge. Being in proximity to that is cool.”

He decided to join the Digital Literacy program as well because he was shocked to learn how wide the digital divide is in Rochester. Jim recalls, “If I hadn’t gone to the [Literacy Rochester volunteer] information session, I wouldn’t have known how serious the gap is.” He says:

Digital literacy means being able to navigate digital spaces not only competently but critically; to build skills to not just digitally consume but to participate and produce. It’s an indispensable skill set needed to make one’s way through the world today. Everyone needs to be developing it. Otherwise, it’s devastating to people’s ability to participate.

He has taught customers many tasks that digitally skilled individuals may take for granted, such as how to copy and paste as well as convert a Word doc to PDF.

Jim credits his loquacious personality with his ability to connect with and help the adults who come into the Frederick Douglass Library looking for computer help. “I like to chat. Being able to talk to people, being approachable, helps them feel less intimidated.” His advice for customers: “Don’t be afraid. We [Digital Literacy volunteers] are really nice. Our job is to help you. Worst case scenario you make a new friend.”

He particularly enjoys helping customers with completing online job applications. “I treat it like a quest we’re on together,” he states. “It’s gratifying to help people overcome the inertia of filling out the form and get through it.” He adds, “The job is half cheerleader, half teacher.”

As he discussed his zeal for volunteering, Jim lamented:

Volunteering seems to have gone out of public life. Everything is focused on self-promotion, self-branding, working hard for one’s self-interest. I believe that ethos is not the best. It’s creating lonely and isolated people; there’s not a lot of connectivity. Helping other people is what we should do. If you’re in a position to volunteer, you should.

He was quick to pull out his journal to recite a quote by Toni Morrison he had copied: “…remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”   

When Jim isn’t reading, writing, or volunteering he can be found playing video games, watching The Wire, or listening to Unspooled, a podcast that discusses the American Film Institute’s top 100 movies.

Thank you, Jim, for all you do for our community.

Digital Literacy, a program of Literacy Rochester, helps adults become fully engaged in their community as citizens, parents, consumers, and workers. The Digital Literacy program is provided free of charge on a one-to-one, drop-in basis in partnership with OACES.

Individuals can drop in for free computer help at these times and locations.  

Learn more about becoming a Digital Literacy volunteer

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