Editor’s Note: This month, the Herald is featuring a series of stories on the Holiday Wish Lists of Mid-Columbia nonprofits and how you can help. Does your nonprofit have a specific need for items that the community can help provide? Let us know by emailing email@example.com with attention to Holiday Wish List. Please include the name and mission of the nonprofit, contact information and a few specific needs.
Adunia Yebeio was confused.
She thought the person on the recording her English as a Second Language class was listening to — as part of a lesson dealing with money — had said “eight dollars.” That’s what it sounded like.
That’s what some of the students sitting next to her heard too.
But, Mary Machiela, one of the volunteer instructors, shook her head. The person had actually said, “a dollar,” meaning $1.
It can be confusing, Machiela assured the students.
Yebeio nodded. It can be, but she keeps coming back.
The 33-year-old, originally from Eritrea, now is settled in Kennewick, and she’s doing her best to learn English.
The adult ESL classes offered by the nonprofit Family Learning Center are helping. Yebeio was one of several people at one of the morning sessions earlier this week. Family Learning Center also has an after-school program that draws kids in elementary through high school.
The Kennewick nonprofit focuses on helping refugees families — hailing from countries from Myanmar to Somalia and Iraq — aiming to ease their transition and assist them in connecting and building community. It started as a ministry of Family of Faith Church in Kennewick and attained nonprofit status earlier this year.
It works with World Relief and also draws families through word of mouth.
The group is looking for more people to sign up as volunteers. The main criteria is a desire to connect and help, said Theresa Roosendaal, director, adding that the group will provide training and work with people’s schedules.
The nonprofit also needs school and art supplies and dry erase markers. And it could use cash donations.
The Family Learning Center classes are held in a two-bedroom apartment in the Central Park Apartments in Kennewick, where many refugee families are placed when they first arrive in the Tri-Cities. But the group is outgrowing the space and plans to move into a pair of neighboring apartments in the same complex over Christmas break.
The nonprofit has four adult ESL classes that meet in the mornings four days a week, averaging 25 to 30 students a day.
The after-school program also draws about 30 attendees a day on average.
Machiela has been helping with the ESL classes for several years. She used to live overseas, in Taiwan and the Philippines, and remembers what it feels like to struggle to communicate. With the Family Learning Center classes, “there’s a comfort level” for students, she said. “That comfort level of trust, non-judgmental (attitudes) — you can try to say anything and we’ll try to understand you.”
During a recent class, her daughter, Heather Orren, helped out, too.
They fielded questions from the students. They went over a workbook and played the recording and used a white board.
They handed out encouragement and smiles. And they got plenty of smiles in return.
The students “are eager to learn,” Orren said. “That’s the one thing I’ve really seen — they want to learn and they want to be here.”
Roosendaal said the nonprofit helps its students, but the volunteers get a lot back, too. Their lives are enriched by the cross-cultural friendships, she said. “I think if you would ask any volunteer who works here, they would say they’ve gained more than they’ve given,” she said.