Being an immigrant in this country should come easily, right? After all, it’s a country made up of immigrants from all over the world. Yet, even to this day, immigrants struggle to understand the American culture, ideals and civic system. Adults coming into this country face many challenges – not just language barriers, but also monetary issues and lack of social connections.
Here in Hunterdon County, it is no different. Day in and day out, documented and undocumented immigrants walk through our door at the Hunterdon County Family Success Center (FSC). “They are scared, shy, worried, and confused as to how to manage their lives,” said Gabby Geraci, FSC Bilingual Family Partner. “They need helping filling out forms; signing up their children for school and communicating with school staff; contacting and scheduling doctors’ appointments; passing the GED; knowing how to interview for jobs; feeling confident about who they are and what they have to offer.”
That’s why we’re here to help. One of the many ways the FSC is helping is by offering a new, revolutionary assimilation program entitled Home of the Brave. This program is offered every Tuesday evening from 5:30 – 8:30 pm. Dinner and babysitting are provided free of charge to all participants.
The course works in three ways. Adults take an English as a Second Language (ESL) class taught by a Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC) instructor. The program is spearheaded by RVCC’s Joanie Coffaro, Director of Corporate and Professional Development at the college, who runs the Basic Skills Workforce Training Program. Thanks to Coffaro’s devotion to our community, we are able to provide this class for FREE and in our Center. That means our families don’t have to travel to RVCC, since most of them have no transportation; and furthermore, they don’t have to pay the $360 fee, thus reducing the financial barrier to being able to take these classes.
While the adults take the ESL class, they can be at ease that their children are well taken care of by our two babysitters in the children’s play room upstairs. Babysitting is also provided FREE. Going to any class is a struggle for many of these immigrants who can’t afford a sitter and therefore stay home instead of advancing. That is also the reason we provide dinner for everyone, to add to the comfort of our students.
Finally, the third part of this program is one which makes this a different type of program from the typical ESL classes—our How to Succeed as a First Generation American class. Offered to youth ages 10–18, this class happens simultaneous to the ESL session for adults. “In this class, we cover everything from American civics and history, to leadership skills, how to deal with bullying and goal setting,” said Geraci. “Many of the children of our adult immigrants have a difficult time fitting into our US culture simultaneously to their parent’s culture. They live in a sort of limbo, not feeling completely American yet not feeling part of their parent’s native country either.” This becomes exponentially stranger for these adolescents because they live in an area that is predominantly white, with a smaller minority population than other county in New Jersey. Their family life is very different than that of their classmates. Their parents often work two or three jobs a day to make ends meet; the jobs are usually that of janitors, maids, landscapers, and construction. Geraci adds, “Whenever these kids get home, they stay home; many calling their home a single bedroom in which the whole family lives. Needless to say, they are not your average American tweens and teens. So many times they feel unworthy of success.”
“Here at the FSC, we want to make sure they realize the plethora of positive powers they have in their life – being bilingual, talented, bright, and culturally-sensitive,” says FSC Director Carmel M. Gettings. “They are starting a new chapter in their family history; that must be the uplifting factor. This program teaches these youth that they must never be ashamed of where they come from, nor stay complacent.” The challenge for these kids is to excel in school, join extracurricular activities, and pave their way to college. They learn about the immigrants that have come before them, and how they are making history. With activities, reading material, documentaries, and projects, they become empowered and ready to take on the world and make use of the resources available to them as first-generation kids. That way, they can later become leaders not just for the whole community, but also for other first-generation kids in the years to come.
Home of the Brave, as you can see, is a holistic program addressing the real difficulties faced by our immigrant population. Leaving no stone unturned, it is a class for winners!
If you know of someone who would benefit, or for more information, please call Gabby Geraci, the program’s coordinator, at (908) 237 0465 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Classes fill up fast. Registration for the Fall classes are open now.