Why I Volunteer: Ken Terpstra

In the past few years Ken Terpstra has taken time to press the reset button on his life, and part of that includes taking a more active role in his community.

Ken bikes to New Door’s San Francisco location regularly, tutoring youth who are participating in the education program and working to pass their high school equivalency tests.

He started tutoring with New Door three and half years ago when he found that he had some extra time in his life. Ken, who lives in San Francisco, felt compelled to use this time to give back- since then, he’s tutored more than nine youth and seven have gotten their GED or HiSET.

Ken highlights the importance of the New Door’s down to earth atmosphere, citing that everyone “leaves [their] ego at the door,” making it a supportive learning environment. On his first day as a tutor he was unsure about what he was getting himself into, but immediately felt the positivity in the air.

“Before I met one person, the whole building relayed to me that New Door was on their game,” Ken recalls. “It was clean, safe, and well-organized. The walls were lined with photos of youth and inspirational people. I could tell they cared.”

He also notes that the passion and talent of the education program staff set up the students for success- in 2017, 85% of all students who started testing earned their GED or HiSET.

Ken often finds himself talking about New Door to his friends and family, who all mention that he the lights up when he talks about his experiences.

“I dare say my time at New Door is more meaningful than any other activities I am involved with on a day to day basis,” he says.

Although Ken has a background in math and science, he tutors all subjects. History is one of his favorites; he’s fascinated by how past events impact the present. Ken says he feels incredibly grateful that he gets to share his passion for learning with others.

“The thing is,” he says, “when I teach I get to learn, too, it’s a two-way street.”

Each student has their own story and their own breakthroughs, and Ken knows that people learn in different ways and at different speeds. He relates his method of tutoring to learning a new piece on the piano: through practice and repetition comes fluidity, success and understanding.

“It’s the aha moments in tutoring,” says Ken. “The moment when after multiple attempts the eyes light up and things start to make sense.”

Ken often thinks back to his own schooling and remembers how difficult studying can be, often repeating concepts over and over, until finally arriving at success. He notes that not all days at New Door are breakthroughs – at least in the conventional sense.

“Somedays there are no aha moments. But I am still there, listening, and maybe sharing a life story. Somedays it’s just about trying to get back on track.”

Years later, Ken is still inspired, and continues to make a change at New Door one person and one challenge at a time.

“I love [the students’] perseverance, personalities, vibrancy, and jokes,” he says. “I come to New Door to give and I find that I wind up getting more in return.”