Thursday, February 21, 2013

Currency of the Heart Comes to Norwalk, CT

One woman, One good idea and a Few good Friends was the recipe for a new community project. Today there is a vibrant, exciting new ESL(English as a Second Language) center in Norwalk, CT started  by Patricia Krause, a longtime Norwalk, CT resident.

“Do your little bit of good where you are.
It’s those little bits of good put together 
that overwhelm the world.”
Desmond Tutu

You have to be careful when talking to Pat she can spin a good story and intrigue you with an opportunity in a  minute. With a smile on her face and blue eyes twinkling, she will announce a new idea.  You’ll notice yourself getting excited and eager to say “I’ll help”. You must be on guard, she will pull you in with her enthusiasm. She’ll make the project sound so exciting and such fun you will say yes before you know it.  This is how the new English classes got started and now 27 volunteers have all said yes and teach the classes every Tuesday and Thursday nights.

How did it begin?

Pat often drove by the long line of immigrant men, on the Lowe St. Bridge, in Norwalk . They were mostly Spanish speaking abd stood in line, waiting to be hired early every morning.  Pat wondered – how do they manage with only a few words of English.  She stopped one morning and talked to the men. Asking them directly, 

Do you speak English?” 
The day laborers, replied “un poco
Pat speaks Spanish and continued with her questions.
Would you like to learn English?
Would you come to a class?
The men answered  “Yes.” to both questions.

Pat has a love for Spanish speaking people which developed over time when she lived in Brazil and later when she worked with women weavers in Guatemala.

For more than  20 years, Pat created a market in the US for products woven by Guatemalan women’s cooperatives. She befriended the women, started a micro lending program, a clinic and an education program.. She eventually founded Mayaworks, a fair trade, nonprofit organization that brings the Mayan women’s hand-crafted products to market.

With a knack for noticing a need and the courage to begin to fulfill the need Pat began the ESL program. The  positive response from the men on the bridge, was all Pat needed to moved into action. She decided to start the classes  called some friends, set up a table, under a canopy, on the bridge, and began early one morning. 

Last night I went to the class and was amazed by the joy , laughter and the energy level in the room. Everyone was engaged and smiling and happy. I wanted to be a part of this. Could I teach English to these Spanish speaking immigrants I found my self asking this question before I realized I was becoming involved. That is how it is there. Just being there makes you want to a part of the process. I became the person everyone had to introduce themselves to and then find another friend to begin the introduction all over again. An English lesson in progress.

Everyone seems to be having fun. Lessons are taught with calendars, maps, newspapers, role play and white boards.Every student has a notebook and is diligently writing new words in the notebook.

Now 13 months later the classes are in full swing, meeting in the basement of Calvin Reformed Church on Tuesday and Thursday evenings with 27 volunteer teachers and attendance of 25 or more day laborers, every evening.

Pat Tells me, “Since September, our new school year, we have focused on "Attendance Persistence," that is, emphasizing the importance of maintaining good attendance once students walk in the door.  We are doing this by rewarding good attendance:  Each student buys a book for $10 when they begin the classes. Once a student comes 10 times, he/she receives his/her $10 book money back...with applause and fanfare.  

In Pat’s words, “Their goal - and ours - remains as it was in December 2011 :  for the day laborers to increase their work opportunities through improved conversational English.”.  
The students are bringing their friends and new neighbors and the class is growing.

One volunteer said to me It is all about love and relationships.

From the community, "Pat,Most of the things we have left behind have begun to recede into the background, but the ESL at the bridge is one thing I would dearly love to be a part of! What a great idea to give them a real reason to use their English!"   from SP

Pat and her friends, the volunteer teachers of the ESL class at New Day Center of Norwalk are spending their “Currency of the Heart” in their home town.  

Where are you spending yours?


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