Published November 29, 2012
Every Tuesday the 17 moms of a small community in Apopka, Fla. board a bus with their young children to attend an ESOL class at the Hope CommUnity Center.
The Hope CommUnity Center is a community-based organization that was founded in 1971 and works to meet the needs of the growing number of farmworkers and immigrant families in Central Florida through a variety of programs such as adult education, immigration services and immigrants rights advocacy, parenting and family nurturing programs, youth leadership groups, and a college-access youth program.
The ESOL class is a new program for the Center, and was started just a few years ago by Nilka Melendez, a member of the Youth Services staff, when a student from the Hope CommUnity Center youth group, Sin Fronteras, asked Melendez if she could help teach his mother English.
Melendez rose to the challenge and established the ESOL class just for the mothers in their community, with the hope that they could learn English both for themselves and their children. The class was first taught by a Notre Dame AmeriCorps volunteer from the local community, Elizabeth Castillo and started with five moms. Today it is taught by another Notre Dame AmeriCorps volunteer, Marlene Rodriguez, and the class size has almost doubled every year.
A partition separates the community room where the class takes place every week, and the energy is inspiring. On one side, the tenacious women work on verbs in the present continuous tense, while their future generation plays and laughs on the other.
The course follows the school year, and for their final project each of the women will write and illustrate an eight to ten page book in English about any subject they desire. Recently they outlined their books, and many of the women plan to write about their families and their lives in America.
A few weeks ago the class was joined by young women from the Duke University Women’s Center; Duke is a yearly participant in the Hope CommUnity Center’s service learning program. The ten young women assisted in helping the women outline their books, and at the end of the session, the young Duke women expressed their gratitude and amazement at the tenacity of the women they had met and lived with for the past week. One student clutched a bag of bright Mexican candy that one of the women had given her as she told me: “These women have been through so much, but their hearts are still so big.”
The women also took turns getting up and speaking about their books, and their lives, in English. One woman said, “When I came to America my life was not what I thought. I decided to go to school. When I started I was terrified because I didn’t understand.” Another explained: “My family came to the U.S. for a better life, for opportunity, for my children.”
One woman who has been with the Hope CommUnity Center for a while expressed her reasons for continually coming back.
“I learn English at HCC to have a better life because in the past it’s been hard because I work in the field. I have three boys and one girl. I want my children to have a better life. I want to learn more English. And I want to teach my husband what I’ve learned.”
Melendez closed that day of class by saying: “These women have changed my life. I think we learn more from them than they learn from us.”
You can learn more about the Hope CommUnity Center and its service learning programs at http://hcc-offm.org.