Solving the root causes of homelessness and poverty is important to helping more individuals and families reach self-sufficiency.
Recently we began offering ESL classes to address the need for better English skills which is hurting some of our clients’ ability to get employment.
Without proficient English skills, residents cannot apply and maintain jobs that provide a living wage to support their families. It is also impossible to obtain the higher education and professional certifications that will enable them to qualify for higher paying jobs.
The Elizabeth Coalition’s ESL classes are open to everyone at no cost. Unlike other ESL options, the Coalition’s program offers practical language skills, interactive learning and includes field trips to reinforce skills. For example, soon after the first session we realized that many clients were reluctant to take advantage of trains or buses due to their lack of confidence in their language skills. So the Beginners class learned how to read the bus schedules and took a bus ride as part of the instruction. The final class (graduation) of each session includes a trip to Jersey Gardens Mall for a meal and some “shopping” to practice their new skills.
Our students range in age from early 20s to 60+ years and come with a variety of primary languages. Many are Spanish speaking but our classes have also had students who speak Polish, Portuguese and French. These classes have given adults the skills and confidence to pursue employment and education that they otherwise would not obtain.
The coordinator of the program, Michael Marcus, is a retired High School English teacher and a longtime volunteer of St. Joseph’s job skills program, Project Ready. He recognized, as we do, that language is a critical barrier to finding steady employment. In response, he partnered with the Elizabeth Coalition to begin English language classes. He continues to volunteer his time and has recruited several volunteers to assist him.