ESL Class meets at Local Episcopal Church

Published 12:33 pm Monday, May 20, 2024

Students and teachers from a local English as a second language class met at Calvary Episcopal church, giving interviews about their experiences. Jose Mendez told how he first became a teacher after he was approached by a coworker. “I know that these folks, they need a lot of help and a lot of them are trying to do their best to, to learn the language and be a better person for their community.”

Mendez grew up speaking both English and Spanish in Texas. He recounted working as a volunteer fire fighter in Montezuma and later in the paid departments in Montezuma and Houston County. Both jobs gave him the opportunity to translate for Spanish speakers who needed help with English. He talked about how the experience affected him. “I would see them, and [it would] kind of break my heart, you know?”

One of the students, Alber Villatoro, had already learned some English from his work. He talked about what it was like arriving 18 years ago. “I didn’t speak a lot of English, but the English that I’m speaking now, I learned from my job. I was working in construction for about 10 years and all my coworkers, they are American, so I had no choice.”

Villatoro told how he had taken a class at the technical College, but the program had closed after six months. He expressed appreciation for the ESL class that meets at Calvary Episcopal. “This helped me a lot with the writing.”

He stated his appreciation for their teaching style. “We can start speaking a new language like a kid. This is simple.”

Villatoro came to the States in his teens. He thanked God for giving him the opportunity to come to the U.S. and talked about his goals. “I want to continue working hard [to] create my own company to be able to employ people who don’t have a job, so that they can also help their families too. And my goals are to be a good father for my children’s and a good husband, and make them, my children, to go [to] university.”

He expressed thanks for his teachers: “I’ll say thank you so much, Mr. Clyde, thank you so much, Mr. Jose, because this program really, really helped us a lot.”

Another student, Eddy Cean, is originally from Haiti. While in Venezuela, he graduated from Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela with a degree in law. Cean talked about the enjoyment he had every Thursday and Tuesday when he came to class. “It’s a good opportunity for me.”

The classes are conducted by volunteer teachers Julio Barrios, Clive Rainey, Ana Negron, Emelyne Cean, José Mendez, Rod Reyna, Norman Race, Nema Etheridge, Zac Monnier, and Jisun Lee Lafigliola. Volunteer Ana Artiga works in child care. The program has students from Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela, Mexico, and Haiti.

Bethany Greeley is the President of Heart of Sumter, a nonprofit that supports the ESL class. She talked about how the non-profit began: “We started at about two years ago, and the idea was that we were going to build community and nurture anybody who was doing good work. So obviously, this is a project that we’re thrilled to be a part of.”

Greeley told how the story of one student in particular had affected her, who had walked from Mexico in his teens by himself. She told how he had spent over a decade and a half in Americus. “He told me that this class was the first time he felt welcome in Americus.”

Greeley expressed a desire to encourage others to support those who were new to the community: “We as a community need to do a better job of welcoming new neighbors from Haiti, from Venezuela, from Puerto Rico, from New York, it doesn’t matter. We need to be open to new people.”

She told how the group had become involved in the community, recently volunteering at the Church’s community garden.

Classes are offered free of charge Tuesday and Thursday from 8 to 9 PM at 408 S. Lee St.