ESL School tutors refugees, immigrants
Doors, eyes and hearts have opened for volunteer tutors and refugee/immigrant students for 40 years at Country Homes English as a Second Language (ESL) School.
Not only do they teach and learn English—and students' languages and cultures—but also they form friendships.
A neighborhood woman in her 80s walked there Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings to "travel the world" as she interacted with students.
A Korean graduate student, who came to the school while studying interior design in Spokane, returned to Korea and started a similar school to teach Korean.
A man, who had cared for years for his wife while she was dying from cancer, emerged from his grief by tutoring.
Elizabeth Housley, who came as an intern three years ago and is now director, and Doni Walker, who tutored two years before volunteering the next 35 years as assistant director, co-director, director and now assistant director, said their involvement is a faith-based calling.
"We are to welcome the sojourner and the stranger," said Elizabeth, who graduated from Moody Bible Institute in 2016 in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).
From Illinois, she signed up at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, but because that campus is small, they directed her to go to Spokane or study online. She chose to go to Spokane. She met her husband, Ben, at Moody.
Doni, who grew up in Bremerton, studied bacteriology at the University of Idaho in Moscow, graduated in 1966 and came to Spokane as a medical technology intern at Deaconess. She met her husband, Lee, and stayed.
After years as a stay-at-home mother of four girls, she volunteered. Country Homes Christian Church is her church.
"Two women who volunteered at Barton School at First Presbyterian Church decided that with the influx of Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s and 1980s, there was need for a similar school in North Spokane, so the church offered space for them to start the Country Homes ESL School in 1979.
"The church also provides half the budget, which is now $6,500," she said. "The other half is covered by private donations."
To celebrate the school's 40th year, the church's Annual Spring Tea with a six-course international menu is at 10:45 a.m., Saturday, April 27, at the church, 8415 N. Wall St.
Elizabeth said there are 21 students from 11 countries and 21 tutors. They find that's about the right number to serve.
Many come two days a week, several come three, and some just one day. Some who come part-time also go to the Community Colleges of Spokane ESL program on North Monroe, where they are in a class with 30 students.
The first students were Vietnamese, Hmong and Laotian.
Current students are from Afghanistan, Brazil, China, El Salvador, Iraq, Kyrgystan, Mexico, Russia, South Korea, Syria and Taiwan.
Over the years, the school has had about 380 tutors helping nearly 600 students from about 60 countries.
Many students are aged 50 to 80, but there are also some young mothers with children, so there is childcare Mondays and Wednesdays. Elizabeth's baby, Walter, is in the child care.
The adult literacy program serves foreign-born adults, assessing their individual needs and planning lessons to meet those needs so they can be self-reliant members of the community. Some students had no formal education. Some are college graduates.
With tutors volunteering, the one-to-one or small-group lessons from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from September through June are free for students.
Tutors also help with applications for drivers' licenses, citizenship and jobs.
Doni's first student was 21 when she escaped with her 16-year-old sister over the mountains from Vietnam to a refugee camp in Thailand. They were there two years before coming to Spokane.
Learning English, finding a safe place and developing trust over a year with Doni, she was able to tell her story of trauma from being robbed and raped while fleeing.
"It's a small program and it takes time to build trust, but students are able to share about their lives and culture," said Doni, who one day took a shopping list from the Vietnamese woman and brought her the food, which she cooked all day to prepare a banquet to say thank you. After she married, she moved to Los Angeles, where there was a large population of Vietnamese.
Another early student was a Korean who went on to own a restaurant and run a gas station/mini mart with her husband. Their three daughters all completed university studies.
"Many immigrants dream for their children to have opportunities for education and jobs," Doni said.
Elizabeth has a passion for people of other cultures. She brings new ideas with her background in TESOL. Paid part-time, she is evaluating the resources, program and people, before suggesting materials to help students learn at a faster pace.
Some workbooks have been copied and used over and over.
"Language is living. Grammar changes," she said.
There's no clear cut-off time. Many students come part of a year to two years. A Korean and a Taiwanese have been coming 10 years.
"We prioritize students who want to learn English to find a job," said Doni. "Tutors and students may develop friendships."
Elizabeth said many of the tutors are retired men and women, about an equal number of each.
"Often men students appreciate having an American man teach and mentor them," she said.
Doni said many of the early tutors were retired teachers who adjusted from lesson plans to flexibly tailoring teaching to individual students.
Often tutors learn words from their students' languages. One struggled to learn some Chinese and in the process helped his student realize he understood it was hard for the student to learn English.
"When tutors learn about the students' languages and cultures, students realize they care," said Elizabeth. "Tutors find there's more than the American way of doing things. It's beautiful, hearing sounds of different languages, tasting the food they cook and learning about their rituals and ways of life."
She not only appreciates learning about the cultures, but also likes the "universal language" of interacting with babies—such as her son, adding "laughter and smiles also spread understanding."
Elizabeth, who goes to Faith Bible Church, said "people need to learn English to have a richer life with greater opportunities."
It's important that students feel safe and welcome.
"It's what Christ does, coming physically on earth to show his love. I'm called to help the sojourner and foreigner. We love people and build relationships," she said.
Doni said it's an outreach for the church and her.
"As Christians, we are Christ's hands, hearts and mouths to the world. It's a joy to help people feel welcome and make their lives easier by opening doors to opportunities. Many are afraid, thrown into a new world after traumatizing experiences," she said.
Some college professors and doctors start over here with low-paying jobs that do not use their education or skills.
Once they have a driver's license, their jobs are no longer limited by where they can go on a bus or when friends will take them, Doni said.
She is sad the government is cutting the number of refugees, but is glad to provide a setting for respecting those who come.
"Instead of fearing our neighbors, we are to love them," said Elizabeth.
"Volunteer tutors are accepting, gracious, interested and curious," Doni said. "Some have helped 20 years. We are wired to help people."
"While many tutors are Christian, our philosophy is that we respect students and their faiths," said Elizabeth.
For information, call 466-3414, Doni 939-2901 firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-313-5590, email@example.com for Elizabeth.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, April, 2019