Mar. 10, 2011
A twice-weekly program to provide English tutoring lessons to immigrants in the community.
Community Contact Information:
Congregation Emanu-el of Westchester
- To raise the congregation's awareness of social action issues
- To offer social action opportunities for the congregation’s members
- To connect Jews to those in need and enhance the feelings of connectedness to the larger community
A twice-weekly program in which volunteers provide 90-minute English tutoring lessons to immigrant men and women in the community.
In 2002, the congregation’s social action committee members began serving coffee and rolls to immigrant day laborers awaiting jobs on neighborhood streets. Through this effort, committee members realized that many of the men spoke little or no English. The idea was formed to teach “survival English” so these individuals could acquire better jobs and become more involved in the community.
A local Catholic community center was serving as a social, recreational and educational center for the growing immigrant community and was about to become a permanent hiring site for day laborers. Synagogue volunteers reached out to the community center to see if they could host English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at the center. Congregation Emanu-el then began providing volunteer tutors to teach English as the men waited for jobs. This way, even on a day when a limited amount of jobs were available, the men unable to get an assignment for that day would still have a productive, meaningful day.
Congregation Emanu-el social action committee members researched classic ESL techniques and recruited volunteers at the synagogue and in the broader community (no Spanish or prior teaching experience was necessary). Appeals were made from the pulpit to fulfill the Jewish value of reaching out to the stranger in our community and help supply Spanish/English dictionaries, picture dictionaries, and other basic teaching supplies.
The community center agreed to provide a site coordinator to act as a liaison between the students and tutors. The support from the local Catholic church that runs the community center is critical to the success of the program.
Funds from the social action committee budget (which is funded by congregant-specified donations) pay for all the supplies needed to run this twice-weekly, year round program. The program is run on Mondays and Wednesdays from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Immigrants of any background are welcome, yet a large majority (about 95 percent) is from Spanish-speaking Central and South America, with 90 percent having arrived within the past five years. The lessons vary depending on the English skills of the students and often focus on the critical concrete words which a day laborer might need to know in order to secure work and ensure proper payment for the work done (hence, the name “survival English”).
The ESL tutoring program is eight years old (began in 2002) and is going strong. Congregation Emanu-el estimates that its volunteers see 300 students (men and women) per year, with the daily numbers ranging anywhere from four to 40 individuals receiving tutoring. The program was so successful that many of the male day laborers started bringing their wives to the community center to also receive ESL tutoring.