Eau Claire (WQOW) - Immigration reform has been a hot topic in Washington and across the country. While the debate over who should be a citizen continues, Eau Claire volunteer Mary Erickson, is working to make sure those who qualify are prepared.
That's why she takes home the honor of being February's Jefferson Award winner.
When Mary Erickson retired, she knew she wanted to give back. "I just needed to do something with my brain, and my time," she said.
That's where Literacy Chippewa Valley came in. Mary was chosen to mentor Gisella, a woman from Columbia who wanted to become a United States citizen.
"It was a pretty big commitment on her part, as well as on mine," Erickson said.
For the next year, the two met nearly 100 times - training to master the 100 questions that would appear on the test. "They are not easy," Erickson said. "I tried doing them with some our family members, and we did not get them all right."
Erickson said the process taught her a lot about what it takes to be part of our country.
"It's not an easy process and not everyone who wants to become a citizen is going to become a citizen even if they are qualified. It's a lot of work," she said. "So, from my perspective, anyone who applies for citizenship and becomes a citizen, really wants to do it."
Erickson was on hand in 2016 when Gisella aced her test in Minneapolis. "It was very exciting," Erickson said. "It was very exciting for both of us."
Just a few months later, Erickson took Gisella to vote for the first time. Now, she's paired with a man from Mexico who wants to become a college student.
Cheryl Sutter, with Literacy Chippewa Valley, said Erickson has been a godsend for the organization.
"Mary is kind of an understated person," Sutter said. "She's really made a nice mark without being showy. She brings heart in terms of the warmth to a student."
Erickson said there are a lot of ways she could spend her retirement years, but feels a sense of accomplishment in helping others accomplish their goals.
"I need to feel like I'm doing something and making a difference somewhere," Erickson said.
Erickson said Literacy Chippewa Valley is about much more than learning to read and write. They also help train people for a variety of jobs, help with computer skills and even help students prepare for their drivers test.
If you want to learn more about Literacy Chippewa Valley, or are interested in volunteering, click here.
To nominate a volunteer making a difference in your community for the next Jefferson Award, click here.