By Peggy Bischoff, Special to The Catholic Virginian

St. John the Evangelist Parish in Waynesboro has been reaching out to help immigrants learn English.

During the past school year, St. John’s has partnered with Learn English and Reading Now (LEARN) to provide free, confidential, one-on-one or small group tutoring for adults who do not speak English. LEARN is a non-profit community partner of the United Way of Greater Augusta.

St. John’s has provided weekly classroom space, free babysitting and a big welcome to an Intermediate/Advanced Group of five Spanish speakers, taught by volunteer Paul Kelly. There is also a Beginners Group of 4-8 Spanish speakers, taught by volunteer Lindsey Simmons and a childcare group of 7-12 of their children, coordinated by St. John’s staff member, Michele Kresge.

Both instructors have witnessed some real progress among their learners as they work to improve their lives, qualify for better occupations and help their families to become acclimated and integrated into our American way of life and culture.

Some members of St. John’s parish have also been trained by LEARN in past years in both ESL (English as a Second Language) instruction and as reading tutors for English speakers who lack basic literacy skills.

Lisa Puzio has worked for five years with a young mother of two who has a learning disability and dyslexia. This learner’s goal has been to be able to read to her children and to text on her smart phone.

“She takes pride in how much she has grown,” Mrs. Puzio said.

Teaching English as a Second Language has been a volunteer effort of Peggy Bischof who over a three-year period tutored an Indian Hindu couple. They are parents of two whose first language is Gujarati.

These learners both achieved American citizenship, while one continued preparing to test for her driver’s learning permit.

Mrs. Bischof is presently working with a Syrian Catholic immigrant, a wife and mother of two, who is fluent in French and speaks Arabic at home. Her children are proud of her efforts to begin speaking a little English, even as they become more fluent in their new language at school.

“As our community grows and welcomes new residents, we rejoice in the enthusiasm and gifts that they bring,” Mrs. Bishof said. “We also look forward to learning from them about all their life experiences and cultures!”