When Joyce volunteered to tutor English for Bridge clients after her retirement to Chattanooga, she didn’t realize everything that would mean. Trips to the store, to the doctor’s office, to social security. Helping clients for CNA tests, the citizenship exam.

It has also led to lifelong friendship. Nearly 20 years after Tamara, a refugee from the Ukraine arrived, she and Joyce still meet for lunch once a week. They share family gatherings and phone calls in between. And the relationship has far outlasted Joyce’s English tutoring sessions.

“I don’t think of myself as a volunteer anymore. I don’t think of myself as teaching Tamara anymore,” Joyce says. “She’s just a friend.”

Joyce worked with several families through the years—from Bosnia, Iran, Somalia. She would meet with them twice a week, helping them learn English and navigate the American way of life. She helped one family buy a house, serving as the liaison between them and the realtors as they navigated the complex process. One day, she found herself marching down to a local furniture store after another family she was working with bought a bedroom suite, which came complete with everything but bedrails—which they had not understood were sold separately.

“I was just furious that someone would do something like that,” she says. She returned with the missing rails, courtesy of the store.

“That’s what you do at Bridge,” she says.

All of the families Joyce has helped eventually moved on, settled into their own lives.

But Tamara was different. She had immigrated with her husband, Simon, after the two retired from careers in the Ukranian public school system—he as a math teacher, she as a language teacher and assistant principal.

 Tamara connected with Joyce, herself a retired English-as-a-second-language teacher, and she quickly became involved in the couple’s daily life. She helped with appointments, taught them to pay bills (things like utilities and rent had been provided for in their homeland) and use a credit card. She guided them through preparation for the citizenship exam, which they passed five short years after arrival. She and Simon worked together for years on conversational English, which he struggled to master. Each Wednesday, they would take a shopping trip and come home for a lunch of Tamara’s homemade Ukranian dishes.

“She makes the best strudel in all the world,” Joyce says.

Simon died a year ago, and in that difficult time the two have stayed close, meeting for weekly lunches, discussing education and their shared passion for classical music. Joyce attends family occasions (Tamara’s daughter lives locally), and Tamara has met Joyce’s family as well.

“Joyce is very kind and very generous and very loyal, and she became part of the family,” Tamara says.

While learning English is part of the integration process into a new country, the personal connection to a volunteer is even more valuable, Joyce says.

“You’re not just teaching English, you’re teaching culture,” she says. “And you’re offering them someone to connect to.”