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Project I-DEA

The Education Department at Tacoma Community House launched a pilot program, Project I-DEA, with the intent to increase digital, career and college-readiness skills of adult English students. The Integrated Digital English Acceleration (I-DEA) Program targets adult learners in the lowest levels in English as a Second Language classes.  Supported by the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges, TCH is in the third year of the program in collaboration with all community and technical colleges.

Students have access to new laptops and technology – enhanced resources thanks to a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. ELA (English Language Acquisition) students are learning through a flipped model, where they do pre-work before coming to class to practice their skills. Lessons are broken into modules and students do about eight hours of one-on-one time a week – with an additional eight hours of work at home.

Even though we are in the first quarter of a three-quarter pilot, students seem to be enjoying the class. Amy Diehr, Education Services Director says, “We are all learning this quarter.  Students are learning how to use a computer and learn English while staff are learning how to wrap lessons with pre-work rather than homework.”

Project I-DEA already shows great promise. By the end of the program, I-DEA learners will increase their English language, digital skills and progress along career and college pathways toward family-wage jobs.

Interested in supporting our work? Make a contribution today.

World Refugee Awareness Month

World Refugee Day is observed annually on June 20 and is dedicated to raising awareness of the situation of refugees. It is also a day to recognize the contributions of refugees in our communities. Last year, Tacoma Community House served 176 refugees from 17 countries. TCH has been serving refugees for many years. Significant efforts were made during the 1970s, when the U.S. concluded the war in Vietnam. Thousands of refugees from Southeast Asia fled the Communist regime and many came to the United States. Washington State was the third highest recipient of these refugees, behind California and Texas. One of the first organizations to respond to the needs of Asian refugees was Tacoma Community House. In an effort to help refugees transition, TCH provided counseling, information on employment and educational opportunities, orientation, interpretive services, and English as a Second Language classes.

Paul Many, Tacoma Community House's Job Developer
Paul Many, Tacoma Community House’s Job Developer

With the wave of refugees in the 1970s, there were many who came through the doors of TCH seeking hope and one individual remains to this day. His name is Paul Many. Paul first came to TCH for English as a Second Language classes in the months after arriving in Pierce County from war-torn Laos. Paul said the counselors and teachers were “great and encouraged him to further his education.” Once he completed ESL classes Paul took the advice he received and went on to pursue a degree while he continued to visit TCH. He formed lasting friendships with two of his instructors—Candy Carbone and Margo Trevino. In 1982, a position opened in the Employment Department at TCH. Candy encouraged Paul to apply and he did. With Candy’s help, and Paul’s perseverance, he got the job with TCH as a Job Developer and has been a fixture of the agency ever since. (Photographed above is Paul on the right assisting two clients)

As the agency’s mission has broadened, so has Paul’s reach, touching not only new immigrants, but the poor of all origins, including native-born. “That’s the way it should be,” says Paul, who appreciates the cultural mix and the opportunity to give back to the nation that took him in when he was just a teenager. For the past 33 years, Paul has dedicated himself to the community and his mission at TCH is to establish partnerships with area businesses to fill jobs that fit the desires, abilities and wage requirements of his clients. Often, he drives clients to and from job interviews. He tells them to familiarize themselves with each enterprise beforehand so that they are prepared both to respond to questions and offer a few of their own.  When they get hired he’s thrilled, and in the months that follow, he visits job sites to make sure expectations are met.

The key to Paul’s success in placing clients, is forming relationships with employers; ensuring that employers benefit from their relationship with TCH. “I like talking to employers,” he says. “We always have repeat customers.” Regular contacts include Menzies Aviation, Marshalls, and Safeway. Some in-house job fairs have featured representatives from Concrete Technology Corporation, Ostroms, and Home Depot.

Driven by his compassion to serve his community, Paul has helped countless participants find jobs. Acting Client Services Director, Jason Scales, says “The most amazing part of Paul’s story is how many lives he has changed. He has placed too many people to count in jobs. No one does a better job of representing TCH and our clients to the business community. Paul, as humble as he is, never takes credit for it. He always gives credit to others. The plain and simple fact is that there would not be an Employment Department at TCH without Paul Many.” Under the passion and motivation of Paul, the Employment Department has thrived and now offers more programs and services.

Through his work at TCH, Paul has touched the lives of thousands of job seekers, and frequently bumps into them around town. When they thank him for his help, he sometimes has trouble remembering their names. It’s no wonder why: He usually counsels 30 clients a month. Executive Director, Liz Dunbar, expresses, “Paul Many has a special gift of finding the right job for the right participant. He is one of a kind and we are lucky to have him.” He is a headhunter for the powerless, a talent scout on behalf of the poor, among them job seekers who scarcely speak English. To many people—Paul is a source of inspiration, encouragement and a crucial piece that helps keep his clients and TCH moving forward.

Interested in supporting our work, make a contribution today.

Finally Belonging

On Friday, April 10, 2015, Tacoma Community House (TCH) celebrated 105 years of making positive change in the lives of refugees, immigrants and low income families in the south Puget Sound. Over 500 guests gathered at the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center, and were reminded, through storytelling and statistics of TCH’s reach and impact, of why it takes all of us doing what we can to ensure that all people have access to opportunities that will help them reach their fullest potential. That we are in this together, that one person’s success is the success of all, was the message at the heart of TCH participant Reysis Alonso’s speech which she shared at the Annual Luncheon. If you were not able to be there or need to be reminded of how powerful her words were, we invite you to read her story.           

Buenas Tardes. Good afternoon. My name is Reysis Alonso, and I would like to say thank you for being here today. I am Cuban. When I was 13 years old my family and I moved to Venezuela in search for freedom and a better life. The 21 years I spent in Venezuela was hard and it became harder when the government turned communist. There were no opportunities and I was barely surviving with my daughter.

My dream was to always move to the United States and in 2004 my dream came true. I was happy because of the hope that was here for me and many other immigrants looking for liberty like myself.

I am a proud Army wife. For 7 years I have moved with the Army to several cities and I have never known a place like Tacoma Community House. I reached Washington on August 18, 2014. I was looking for a place to study English. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website recommended TCH as one of the best places to study English. Caring for a family of 5 is not easy on our budget, but I knew I could study English at TCH because it is not expensive.  For the last 6 months, I have been taking ESL classes and to my surprise TCH does more than teach English. They help people find jobs, they help with immigration and because of TCH, I am on the pathway to citizenship. I also got a job with Home Depot.

Because of your support, I feel better speaking English. I can communicate better with my kids and I feel more secure with myself. Because of your support, I have a job and I finally feel like I have gained independence. I will soon become a citizen of my country, the United States. At Tacoma Community House, I had the chance to go to Olympia and ask lawmakers to keep our programs. I got to motivate my immigrant friends to keep up the good work.  I will soon be able to vote. My voice will matter and I will finally belong.

There is no place like Tacoma Community House. This place has been the solution for my life. My story is unique, but so are the stories of the thousands of people TCH serves. This is about all of us. Please continue to support this beautiful and important work of Tacoma Community House.  Thank you for everything! Gracias por todo!

Interested in helping families like Reysis’? Support our work by making a contribution today.

Finding Safety through Client Advocacy

Paulina was born and raised in Peru. An intelligent woman, Paulina flourished in school and became an attorney. Through her work she met her husband, who promised her the world. Excited at the prospect of spending her life with the man she loved, she moved to America to be with him.

Once they arrived in the U.S. they married. Shortly thereafter Paulina’s husband became emotionally and physically abusive. The violence continued even when Paulina was pregnant. When she gave birth to their child, he refused to recognize his daughter. A paternity test was done and the results were positive, but he still did not wish to be in the child’s life. Paulina tried to live with the man she thought she loved, but he wanted nothing to do with her or the baby and threatened to have her deported.

Paulina came to United States with hopes of a prosperous future with her husband, a U.S. citizen. However, her dreams quickly faded when her husband became violent. Paulina lived in constant fear and was a prisoner in her own home. At one point, she was afraid she was going to die and leave her family all alone.

After three years of physical and emotional abuse, Paulina had had enough. She no longer wanted to be afraid. She sought help and was referred to Tacoma Community House. Through the Client Advocacy program, Paulina had help finding housing and received public assistance, immigration services and social security. She thanks her advocate for helping her and her family reach stability and security.

Additionally, with her advocate‘s assistance, she and her family are now permanent residents. Paulina says it was her advocate’s encouragement that gave her the strength she needed to keep moving forward. She never thought she’d get out of the rough spot she was living in, but her determination and tenacity helped pave the way for stability for herself and her family.

Paulina recently completed ESL classes at TCH. She knew learning English is necessary so she can communicate with others, navigate the bus system, understand the culture, and much more. She plans on furthering her education so she can provide for her family. For the brief time she’s been volunteering with the Juvenile Court, Paulina has been recognized for being smart and a quick learner. Her goal is to, once again, work in the court system — this time as a paralegal.

“Tacoma Community House is essential for the community,” Paulina shared. She hopes one day she can pay it forward and give back to the organization that helped her get back on her feet.

Interested in helping women like Paulina? Support our Client Advocacy program by making a contribution today and/or by donating Orca cards or gift cards.

If you are interested in learning more about client advocacy, please contact the Client Advocacy Manager Rocio Chavez de Alvarado.

Meet Safiah

When Safiah first came to the United States, she depended almost entirely on her husband to interpret the strange and confusing language and culture so alien from the Yemeni village where she grew up. Since then, she has come to trust another reliable source of information and assistance, where she feels as much at home as in her own apartment: Tacoma Community House. “I have good people here. They’re like my family,” said Safiah, who credits her growing English skills and self confidence in part to the patience, generosity and compassion of her TCH teachers.

With three youngsters still at home, and a husband who sometimes works overseas, it’s been hard for Safiah to commit to a regular class schedule. But for about a dozen years, she’s valued TCH as a fountainhead of knowledge and assistance, not only for herself, but for other Arabic speakers. “I bring all my friends here,” she said. In English and citizenship classes, she’s encountered students from all over the world: China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Russia, Mexico, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan. “They accept all the people from all the places, from all different cultures,” Safiah said.

She cherishes the camaraderie of fellow language learners. Malapropisms and pronunciation mistakes are common. “I’m all the time making mistakes, but the teachers say, ‘It’s okay, we’ll get it right in the future.” She recalled one lesson when students suggested home remedies for a cold. Safiah offered tea and soap. The faces of classmates immediately turned quizzical. “Tea and what, Safiah?” the teacher asked. “Soap, soap. What? Do I say something wrong?” Safiah responded. “Soap is for the laundry,” said the teacher. “Oh,” said Safiah. Everybody laughed.

Now in advanced classes, Safiah would like to go on to earn a GED. “Until now, I’m not good for speaking English, but I try.” In her case, the difficulty is compounded by the fact that she has had almost no formal education. As a child, she was taught to write her name and read Arabic, but little more. Instead, she was prepared for marriage. The mother of five adult children, Safiah was a divorcee when her husband returned to his native country to find a wife about 15 years ago. Before the marriage, they were not permitted to meet. Safiah could only sneak a peek at her future husband from afar. But when she recalls what went through her head at the time, her eyes light up. “He’s an American,” she said to herself. “This will change my life forever.”

Fortunately, the marriage has been a success, and she credits her husband, Moses, a merchant marine seaman, with easing the transition to American culture. And with help from TCH, she’s become a citizen and learned enough English to get a driver’s license. She’s also made new friends. One is a pharmacist from Russia. “I’d love to be able to say, ‘Good morning,’ in Russian,” Safiah said. “But it’s too hard.”

Special thanks to Susan Gordon, former News Tribune writer and one of TCH’s fabulous volunteers, who wrote this article.