International Language Institute of Massachusetts, USA

We are committed to social responsibility and have two compelling stories to tell. First is our long-time program of free English classes for refugees and immigrants that empowers these students and thus enhances their ability to provide for their families and integrate more fully into their communities. The second revolves around our Mayor’s call for making Northampton a State Department pilot project for resettlement of refugees.

Free English classes for refugees and immigrants

ILI’s free English classes for refugees and immigrants are not a “one-off” commitment. To the contrary, this program has been an integral part of our school – and our communities – from almost day one. That’s because shortly after our founding, we realized there was a huge gap between students who could afford our excellent language classes and refugees and immigrants with limited English skills who could not.

Our solution? We worked with the Massachusetts education department and received a grant to launch our free English classes. More than 25 years later, the department continues to support our program. As important, so do people in the area we serve. Our share is about one-third of the total program costs. And each year, our “Giving Voice” fundraising event raises tens of thousands of dollars from many local businesses, local foundations, and hundreds of loyal individual donors who believe, as we do, that breaking down language barriers is key to bettering the lives of area refugees and immigrants. It enables them to be more successful in their jobs, in communicating with their children’s educators, and in giving back to the communities in which they reside.  Watch the local TV coverage of the Giving Voice event.

ILI refugee and immigrant students and community supporters salute the 2016 Giving Voice fundraising event:

Photo #1ILI’s free English classes have literally helped change the lives of our refugee and immigrant students. All adults, they are highly motivated, faithfully arriving at the school after having prepared early dinners for their families or after finishing up at their second (maybe third) job of the day. They know that English skills are key to a brighter future for their families. See an overview of Giving Voice and our free English classes

On average, we serve 60 refugees and immigrants a year. They participate in two, three-hour English evening classes each week over two semesters, led by excellent, dedicated, innovative teachers. We also train community volunteers who commit to one-on-one tutoring sessions with the students.

The classes focus on practicalities, from carrying on conversations at work and in everyday transactions to understanding citizenship requirements, obtaining a driver’s license, learning how to read a bus schedule, and much more. The goal is for students to gain the skills needed to access better education and employment opportunities and to participate more productively in their communities.

In 2015, our refugee and immigrant students were from Brazil, Ecuador, Cape Verde, El Salvador, Cambodia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Morocco, Poland, Guinea, Philippines, Vietnam, Peru, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Dominican Republic, Portugal, Syria, Nicaragua, and Korea. Each class is like a mini United Nations working group, with English — AND the desire to better themselves — as the common denominators.  

Some of our current students:

Photo #2The overwhelming majority of our students are employed and have children. Their typical careers include the service and computer industries, factories, hospitals, and (a few) small, self-owned businesses. Read a recent story in local paper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Measurements of success are many: How well do the students navigate the bureaucracy of the health care system? Did they earn a pay raise or new position at work? Were they accepted at a two-year community college? Did they obtain a driver’s license? Are their children successfully enrolled in school? These are among the myriad milestones we track as our students engage more fully and give back to their communities.

Measurements of success are many: How well do the students navigate the bureaucracy of the health care system? Did they earn a pay raise or new position at work? Were they accepted at a two-year community college? Did they obtain a driver’s license? Are their children successfully enrolled in school? These are among the myriad milestones we track as our students engage more fully and give back to their communities.

Pilot Program for Refugee Resettlement

In June of 2016, Northampton’s Mayor invited ILI to join the advisory committee for a Northampton-based working group to consider all aspects surrounding resettlement of overseas refugees. The Mayor convened the group in response to a call for pilot programs from the U.S. Department of State.

Approximately 51 refugees – parents and their children – from the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa are the focus of this resettlement initiative. They have been living in resettlement or refugee camps for many years after fleeing their war-torn and strife-ridden countries.

It’s a community effort. ILI, Catholic Charities of Springfield, Massachusetts, and the Center for New Americans in Northampton are working with members of the Northampton City Council, the Northampton Superintendent of schools, several faith-based institutions, employment officials, and representatives of the Northampton Housing Authority.

Questions primarily around housing, employment, and education remain to be resolved. But significant optimism exists for the resettlement initiative to begin in late 2016.

And as ILI’s Executive Director Caroline Gear reminds ILI friends and sponsors, “We have nearly 30 years of experience in helping refugees integrate successfully into western Massachusetts communities. ILI looks forward to working with community partners in this potential resettlement initiative.”

About this blog

Members of IALC share their insights on the language travel industry. Contributors are owners, directors, managers, teachers or administrative staff of IALC-accredited language schools worldwide.

IALC Workshop

IALC 2017 Workshop in Boston Massachusetts, USA - 23-26 March 2017

IALC 2017 Boston
Dates: 23-26 March 2017
Location: Boston, USA
Educators: IALC-accredited language schools worldwide
Hosted by: ELC Boston
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ELC Boston hosts the IALC 2017 workshop

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