Despite the United States being called a melting pot because of all the different countries, cultures and languages that have blended together to form American life in the 21st century, it is tough for a non-English speaking foreigner to assimilate easily in this country. Learning English and the ways or means of doing things in the United States is complex enough even when you speak the language. However, recently arrived immigrants who have been fortunate enough to find their way to the New Neighbors Education Center can count themselves very lucky as they take their English as a Second Language [ESL] courses.
Last Friday night, Alexandrians turned out in force to show their support for this worthy cause. Guests and supporters included Mayor Bill Euille, Vice Mayor Del Pepper, State Senator Patsy Ticer, Jonelle Wallmeyer of the Alexandria Community Trust [ACT], Karyn Moran on behalf of her husband, Brian, the former Delegate from Alexandria and candidate for Governor, and Ted Ellett, the President of the New Neighbors Board of Directors.
Initially, many would not see a need for an English education program such as New Neighbors because Alexandria does not seem to be a city with a substantial immigrant population, but in reality more than 32 percent of the residents of Northern Virginia speak a foreign language at home. Since the New Neighbors founding in 2001, people from 84 countries have taken the English courses in the nine classrooms in the Fowler House building at Christ Church (located at 118 North Washington Street). Childcare services have made it feasible for mothers with young children to take the English classes as well. Executive Director Jean G. Johnson said that, At the moment, the New Neighbors ESL program serves 300 adults and 120 children each year in its two, 12-week, 90-hour school terms. It is exciting to see how fast they progress in learning English and what a difference it makes in their lives. The motivation to learn is incredible, and I think that they enjoy being part of the New Neighbors vibrant community.
Fundraising ventures like Fridays event for New Neighbors are critical to making the program affordable for new immigrants who are not typically flush with cash. The cost to the New Neighbors students is just $50 a term, but the actual price of educating each ESL student is $500 per term. The NNEC got a financial boost from Wallmeyer, on behalf ACT, when she presented a check for $10,000 to New Neighbors.
In addition to enjoying the party and bidding on fun and interesting items, New Neighbors guests heard from three of the appreciative students; Riham Elwezri, Policarpo Alumu, and Marcela Hernandez. Each spoke and raved about what a difference New Neighbors has made in their lives and ability to work in the United States.
The New Neighbors School Manager, Eileen Wallace, beamed with pride as she introduced the students to various guests. The New Neighbors students infectious enthusiasm for the program seemed to rub off on the party guests, who were there to help raise funds but could not help being affected by their desire to learn the language. Wallace indicated that she admires the students. They work hard and make many sacrifices to study English. I have seen students come directly to school after working all night cleaning offices. They do this because they know that learning English is essential to succeed in this country.
Brian Moran believes strongly that New Neighbors is a worthwhile venture, and he says, The New Neighbors Education Center is a vital program that helps new residents learn English and American culture. The center does critical work to help new Virginians achieve the American dream.
Thanks to the New Neighbors, a lot more residents of the Commonwealth are well on their way to successfully embracing life in the United States.
For more information on volunteering or to make a donation to the New Neighbors Education Center, visit www.nneduction.org or call 703-548-7707.