Students ‘hammer’ out their English skills Immigrants help build Ephrata home
By: MICHELLE REIFF Review Staff firstname.lastname@example.org, Staff Writer
Adapting to life in a new environment can be tough, especially for those who are still learning the language while searching for employment.
A partnership of community organizations has made the transition a bit easier for a group of newly-arrived Cuban refugees while at the same time providing a home for an Ephrata family.
Church World Service (CWS) in Lancaster, along with the Intermediate Unit 13 of Lancaster/Lebanon offers Vocational English as a Second Language (VESL) classes. The current class offers language instruction and vocabulary needed to obtain a job or enroll in job training for the areas of construction and welding.
Eight newly-arrived Cubans invested a month to undergo the challenge of learning English specific to improving their chances of employment. On the last day of class, the students were given the option to participate in a Habitat for Humanity building project in Ephrata to gain valuable hands-on experience.
"The students’ English levels vary somewhat, but each made huge progress in the classroom and wanted to give back to their community," said Luis Ortiz, coordinator for the VESL classes.
Six of them did just that. The pupils assisted in constructing low-income housing for Habitat for Humanity in an Ephrata community called Autumn Hills. The students worked on the home at 18 Silver Maple Circle, which will soon be home to Augustin and Ghislaine Babunga and their children. It was dedicated on Dec. 17, as was the other half of the duplex, now home to Liz Umstead and her children.
Since the completion of the course and the build, two of the students, Alejandro Perez Alberteries, 24, and Andy Llanes Sosa, 25, have secured jobs in the construction field through CWS’s employment program. The friends, who came to Miami, Fla. in September on a self-built boat along with 24 other men and women, are thrilled that they were provided with this stepping stone.
"We consider ourselves sort of ‘frontiers,’" said Alberteries. "We do have some family in Miami but decided to come to Lancaster to develop more English and be able to start our own lives." He noted that due to the large population of Cubans and Hispanics, if they had stayed in Miami, they would not be encouraged to speak much English.
In the VESL class, Alberteries and Sosa learned construction specific terms such as tools used, days of the week, parts of the home and materials involved. They plan to continue their education with more courses related to the job.
"It really helped us because although we had construction experience in Cuba we were able to learn the terminology in English," said Sosa. "It’s a good program."
CWS, a non-profit organization sponsored by various churches, is involved in resettling refugees from many different countries. The group is connected with the government in different ways.
"For example, a Cuban would have to get here any way they can," said Ortiz. "We have a fund, a certain allotment, to resettle them and help them to be self-sufficient in a couple of months." Additional services offered are immigration counseling, citizenship classes and VESL, which is currently being supported by a grant.
The VESL program began in 2008 and serves Cuban/Haitian entrants who are either newly-arrived or established residents who are unemployed or under-employed. The current courses offered were specific to learning vocabulary and language skills for jobs and/or training in the areas of construction/welding, certified nursing assistant and commercial truck driving. Two courses in general work preparation will also be offered throughout the year.
After completion of one of the four courses, it is the goal of CWS that registrants will be able to benefit from quality job training classes provided in English in Lancaster and/or obtain interviews for skilled employment in their chosen field. Volunteer experiences, like this Ephrata project with Habitat for Humanity, complement the students’ new language skills and future goals.
"Refugees and Cuban/Haitian entrants overcome huge obstacles to come to the U.S., and once here they strive to succeed within their new communities," said Ortiz. He added that Alberteries and Sosa have expressed interest in volunteering for similar projects in the future. More HABITAT, page A6