Helping men and women learn skills that will ease their transition into the community is the goal of those working at Nuestra Casa.
That’s according to Sister Mary Rita Rohde, who teaches English as a Second Language classes, and Nuestra Casa Executive Director Dr. Esperanza Lemos.
The pair spoke to Sunnyside Daybreak Rotary Club members this morning (Wednesday) about the various classes offered by the local non-profit organization.
Rohde said there are five levels of English as a Second Language classes offered by the organization. The classes help students learn English, but the students also learn about civics and parenting as a result of the classes.
She told the story of one student who was proud about her newly acquired skills. That student when ordering burritos went to a local eatery and ordered “two little donkeys,” the English translation for the popular Mexican dish.
Rohde said it is important for immigrants living in the Yakima Valley to learn English. Often the students taking advantage of Nuestra Casa’s classes have the equivalent of a third grade education and their own children surpass that education level.
As a result, there is an emphasis on helping parents learn that they determine the rules of the household. Having the skills to do so and the English comprehension empowers parents.
As the students at Nuestra Casa become more self-sufficient, they learn there are other opportunities and doors opened to them.
Rohde said the organization also offers driver’s education classes. This week she was pleased to have a request for a ride to class from one student.
“It’s the first time in 10 years that I know of a student who wasn’t driving herself to class,” she said.
Rohde recalled seeing all the cars in the parking lot during the first driver’s education class, realizing that the students in the class had driven themselves there.
She said attendance in all the programs offered by Nuestra Casa increases during the winter months. During the remainder of the year, many of those taking advantage of the programs are working in agriculture.
Adjusting programs to meet the needs of those served by the organization is important, said Rohde. She said students wishing to obtain a GED were struggling with math. As a result, Nuestra Casa with the assistance of an engineer and MIT graduate last year was able to offer math classes.
“As we see the need, we try to respond to it,” said Rohde.
There are also nutrition classes and diabetes education offered by the organization, helping the Hispanic community learn to better take care of its health.
Lemos recently became the executive director at Nuestra Casa.
Addressing the need to offer programs for community members during the agricultural season, Nuestra Casa offered a few night classes this year.
Lemos said attendance was not very high, but she said the organization is evaluating the possibility of continuing to offer night classes.
In addition to offering the various classes at Nuestra Casa, referral services are also available.
Lemos said, “I am proud of the collaboration with other organizations.”
She said Nuestra Casa doesn’t offer all the services needed, but has a good relationship with other organizations that serve the population.
Rohde said, “We are helping adult immigrants become more self-sufficient.”