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In Mattapan, residents celebrate graduation from ESOL program

Posted by Patrick Rosso  June 21, 2013 06:01 PM

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(IPatrick D. Rosso/

Some members of the programs advanced class joined by ABCD staff.

Forty-one area residents are now better equipped to enter the workforce and take part in everyday activities in their community after graduating from Action for Boston Community Development’s English for Speakers of Other Languages program.

The adult students and their families celebrated the achievement Friday morning at a commencement ceremony in Mattapan.

Although Friday’s ceremony marked a major milestone for the students, the classes almost didn’t happen.

Last summer the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which helps financially support the program, pulled out its funding, leaving ABCD scrambling.

After a hard fought battle the decision was reversed and funding for the ESOL program was reinstated for the next five-years.

“To survive in this country they need to be able to speak English,” said Milly Arbaje-Thomas, director of the ABCD Mattapan Family Service Center. “A person in this country who can’t speak English is essentially handicapped.”

The program, which works with non-English speaking adults, not only aims to help their conversation and writing skills, but teaches them the intricacies of a language and its use in everyday life, from writing a check to shopping at the grocery store.

“We are really proud of all of you,” Karleen Porcena, operations manager for the ABCD Mattapan Family Service Center, told the crowd. “I saw you here early for every class with lots of energy and passion.”

Friday’s graduates hailed from all over, but came to the class for the same reason: a better life.

“I can’t even find the words to describe my joy,” said Jean Abel Venant, 50, a Dorchester resident and Haitian immigrant. “Now we can talk more easily in English. I can now go shopping alone, I can watch the news in English, I can even pray in English now.”

For others the classes represented power and independence.

“I was scared at first to speak English,” said Mary Delance, 36, a Dorchester resident and Haitian immigrant. “I can now go to the hospital by myself and ask for information. I can even make my own appointments.”

The new sense of freedom was constant theme throughout the ceremony as the students accepted their certificates.

The program, which normally runs for nine-months, has three stages and works with students both on their English skills and their navigation of their new home.

“You don’t just help teach English, you help the students meet the needs outside of the classroom,” Rubenia Bomatay, 57, a Dorchester resident and Honduran immigrant, told the crowd. “Thank you for everything.”

Email Patrick D. Rosso, Follow him @PDRosso, or friend him on Facebook.

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