Carol Chen and Gloria Penagos know from personal experience what it is like to struggle to learn the language, gain job skills, and adapt to life in a new country. Now, thanks to an Americorps grant, the two graduates of HCC's Ludlow Adult Learning Center (LAALC) are spending the next year putting their knowledge and experience to work for others who are traveling the same path.
Chen has been assigned to HCC's Picknelly Adult and Family Education Center (PAFEC) in downtown Holyoke, and Penagos is working at the LAALC. The two spent a week in Philadelphia this past July training with AmeriCorps VISTA, a national service program dedicated to fighting poverty. VISTA workers serve full-time for a year at a nonprofit organization or government agency, working to fight illiteracy, improve health services, create businesses, strengthen community groups, and more. Speaking about the training, Penagos remarked, "We learned what it really means to be a Vista Volunteer. But I think that the most important thing is the work we will do to create awareness of poverty in America."
Penagos, who holds a BA in economics and an MA in management from universities in Colombia, her country of origin, enrolled at the LAALC in 2007 to get help learning the language of her new home. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to spend her VISTA year working at LAALC. "The staff of the Ludlow Center care so much for the students," she said. "I want to be able to help others in the same way." She will assist with volunteer recruitment, information and referral, and family literacy.
Chen, who has an AA in International Trade, came to Boston as a foreign student who wanted to learn English. She expected to return to Taiwan, but "Life is always full of surprises," she said. "I met the love of my life during a Thanksgiving party at my classmate's apartment!" Married in 2004, she and her husband are now the parents of two six- and four year-old daughters. Like Penagos, she turned to the LAALC. "The Ludlow Center helped me improve my English and get to know the culture of the United States," she said.
Chen speaks enthusiastically of her job working as a technology assistant at the PAFEC in downtown Holyoke. "I have been working on creating curriculum for GED, such as researching educational websites for preparing for GED test, creating instructional documents for computer literacy and creating students information intake forms" she said.
She is also assisting with preparations for the opening of the new Thomas Gill III Technology Center on the first floor of the PAFEC building. The Gill Center will provide classes in computer literacy and software-specific training, and increase the space available for PAFEC educational offerings.
"There are many new immigrants still on the waiting list to be enrolled in the classes that PAFEC offers, but they couldn't be accepted because of limited seats, equipment and staff" said Chen. "This will help."
PAFEC and LAALC staff are appreciative of the dedication demonstrated by both women. "Americorps provides VISTA volunteers with a small stipend for the year of full-time work," said Kermit Dunkelberg, Ludlow Area Adult Learning Center Program Coordinator. "You have to be truly committed to undertake this, and it is obvious that Gloria and Carol are pouring their energies and hearts into this work."
The work also demands that the two take their English language skills to the next level, while gaining knowledge of the service side of adult literacy programs.
"I think this is a very demanding and challenging assignment, but I believe in myself," said Chen. "With help [from those] around me, I will get the work done."