When David Suarez arrived on Staten Island from Mexico some five years ago, one of his first priorities was learning to speak English. He says it wasn’t easy.
Suarez first took classes at the public library, then at a public school and finally at immigrant advocacy center El Centro de Inmigrante in Castleton Corners.
“I have to keep improving. I’ve been for four years, and I have to improve more,” he says.
Thanks to a partnership called the Literacy Zone [comprised of Make the Road NY and other organizations], Suarez can not only improve, but also teach English to other immigrants.
Literacy Zones was developed through a state grant to close the achievement gap in high poverty neighborhoods where many immigrants live.
The Jewish Community Center provides the teachers and immigrant advocacy centers like El Centro de Inmigrante and Make the Road New York offer teaching space at five locations on the North Shore. That way, immigrants can take the classes where the most convenient location.
“Transportation is a big hindrance, or a challenge shall I say. So once we find out where the client needs to go, we try to find a facility close by,” says Rose Shargo of the Jewish Community Center.
Besides teaching English, the Literacy Zones offer social services, so students can get food stamps, health insurance and their GED where they study.
“These are the kind of resources, coordination and the continuum of care that we’ve never really had for new immigrants before that we have now on Staten Island,” says Terry Troia of Project Hospitality.
So far, about 600 people have signed up to learn English through the Literacy Zone. It is a number organizers say falls in line with Staten Island’s increasingly diverse population.
“It really is changing and we’re trying to react to that change, because again, we’re here to serve the people the best way we can,” says Maureen Fisher of the Jewish Community Center.
Sixty-eight community-based groups are part of the Literary Zone, in a partnership that organizers believe can affect real change in the lives of new immigrants.