Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Untold Story: ESL

There is a story that needs to be told.

There was an amazing experience of grace at the Columbus Catholic Worker recently, at a much needed time. Bev, our trusty core member who started and led so many wonderful initiatives with us—English as a second language (ESL) classes, the free clothing store, and a co-founder of Pax Christi—decided to move on without us. We wish her well and offer prayers of gratitude for her many contributions.

I assumed we would have to let ESL go, as it was hard to figure out where we would find the time or energy to continue the program. It would have been very sad, as we are only teaching a small fraction of the people at this parish alone who hunger and crave ESL instruction (we teach approx 20, but there are 120 who signed an interest list with Fr. Pat!)

Our Catholic Worker community member Erin S would not let that happen. She freely admits to having absolutely no previous ESL experience, but her many years in non-profit administration show that she knows how to form a team to meet a challenge. She put a dream team together—Vielka, our long-time friend from Kairos who had already started teaching ESL the last couple of months, Erin K, one of our garden leaders who had spent a year in Costa Rica and loves learning about other cultures, and Ginger, expert host of hospitality.

They sat down one afternoon and worked out a plan. Magic happened. Ideas were shared. Someone had a spark and another could see where it could go. Let’s try this, let’s try that. They put a wonderful patchwork quilt together. Some folks have ESL experience, some have experience learning a language of their own, some just have all the gusto in the world. ESL was back on track! Not long after this new team took over, some more amazing volunteers appeared—Mike, who keeps showing up with trunkloads of ESL materials, Ginger has been recruiting tutors, Joan, Steve and Gilda all take their turn, and I keep the coffee brewing. Vielka is unbelievable, she is the anchor who is here night after night.

It is a FUN, dynamic environment and the sweetest sharing of hospitality. The building is alive with robust laughter and friendly cheer. Many of these students have been in America for 5, 10, sometimes 25 years without knowing the language here. ESL programs are in short supply and often cost too much. The ministry of welcoming them into our home and helping isolated people have the tools to do something as basic and essential as simply talking to the people they come across in their daily lives is immense. It is hard and intimidating to learn a new language, but folks feel safe here. They can take risks.

Along with mostly Latino students, we have also started drawing folks with a Vietnamese and Cambodian background—they are learning some Spanish as well as English!

The initial plan is to keep the classes running until Dec 15th for the holiday break. At that time, the group will evaluate their methods and schedules and put something in place to start up again hopefully in January. We’ll have a pot luck party on December 15th at 6:00 pm, feel free to stop by!

Numerous others have expressed interest, so we are looking forward to a dynamic team in the new year. If you have ever wanted to do it, you may be surprised how much you can do, even if you have never tutored English before!

I am in total awe of this team--in their teaching, in their enthusiasm, and, most especially, in the way they have each responded to God’s call in this. What a spiritual boost this has been!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I will say a prayer of gratitude to Bev, in this month as I get ready to move to CCW, for all of the beautiful ministries she introduced to CCW. I am glad I got to meet her when I visited earlier this fall, and that I had the opportunity to see and hear one of her Monday night basic classes. So much joy! She cooked a beautiful meal at the house that night, and shared it with Frank and me. I also had the chance to go to Vigil Mass at St James the Less with Bev and Joan. At the end of our last visit, Bev hugged me and welcomed with a deep warmth and joy. It is that love - the spirit of hospitality that is the heart of the Catholic Worker movement - I remember most from that brief visit. Jean