Volunteer John Bachmann of Montclair teaches English to Syrian refugee Mohanad G. at NJ Rebuild, a non-profit organization based in Paterson. COURTESY JODI F. PAROFF


John Bachmann, 55, of Montclair, volunteers two hours every Wednesday evening, teaching English as a Second Language to Syrian refugees at NJ Rebuild’s Program (, a nonprofit organization based in Wayne. Bachmann has been volunteering since September. The program is sponsored by GERA (Global Emergency Response and Assistance) located in Paterson, (also at The word “gera” means neighbor in Arabic. Bachmann said he is among approximately a half dozen Montclair residents who also give of their time at the program. Syrian refugees of all ages — 20 adults, 12 kids and six high school students — come for free English lessons three times a week, on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, he said.

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John Bachmann

What inspired you to volunteer as an ESL teacher?
My parents came to this country from West Berlin, Germany, and were sponsored by strangers. They spoke very little English. By the help of people here they found their way.

Have you volunteered in the past?
I volunteered for schools. I was on the board of Montclair Cooperative School, have been on PTA of Bradford and Buzz Aldrin Middle School, Boy Scouts and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Manhattan. I also volunteer my time at MESH Café.

How did you find out about NJ Rebuild?
I found out through friends, Montclair parents and at the schools.

How do the lessons vary?
For example, I worked with one gentleman in the beginner lessons, he is an electrician. I focused on words of his trade. I also help with the homework. A lot of the kids go to high school in Paterson. There is an adult ESL Program and Children Enrichment Program. We also play games with them such as Simon Says and board games. The program starts in September and in January everyone is assessed again. There are four levels — beginner, two intermediate levels and advanced.

How does your family feel about your donating your time?
My daughter Elena, 12, comes with me on Wednesdays and helps out with the elementary school kids in the Children Enrichment Program. We want to volunteer and it’s tricky to find volunteering opportunities … especially for younger kids. Both my daughters Elena and Julia, 11, help with me at MESH Café. They can serve at MESH. I’m helping my family understand that the world isn’t just our bubble. We don’t want to live in an existence that only reflects our own personal way of living. Let our family know diversity through experience.

What do you find challenging?
I wish it could be faster. B and P are classic problem letters for them. The alphabet is completely different and they are used to reading right to left.

How do you feel at the end of a day of volunteering?
It’s tremendous. Certainly great to help with English. It’s not so simple. We are forming connections. It’s cool to see my daughter with Nancy, a 10-year-old Syrian who spoke at the United Nations.

What is your profession?
I am a partner with Bending Brook LLC, a management consulting firm that helps companies define and implement their go-to-market sales and marketing activities in order to increase revenue. Clients include companies in high tech/cloud, life sciences/pharmaceuticals, financial services, and media/publishing. I’m also an adjunct professor at Montclair State University in business strategy.

What do you do with your free time?
Soccer and skiing. I have two young kids, I have no free time. Home repairs.

What have you learned from this experience?
For the English language it is really important to allow people to communicate. We live in an age when things are oral and we need to be flexible with what is being taught and the approach is important. Sometimes you change course getting into vocabulary instead of focusing on what is less important.  We learn about the people and their background. It’s great to hear about their journeys in there life and geography.