20th Anniversary of One to One Learning, Inc. — Sparkill Congregation’s local ministry assisting Immigrants
Twenty years ago, Sr. Cecilia LaPietra, OP, was looking to get involved with a social ministry that assisted Spanish-speaking Catholics. She recognized a great need in her local Rockland County, NY community which had a growing immigrant population seeking education and opportunities to learn the English language. Out of this need, One to One Learning, Inc. was born — a non-profit, outreach organization sponsored by the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill with the mission of providing English classes and other supportive services for immigrants to empower them to reach their full potential and lead meaningful lives in the communities where they live and work.
One to One Learning’s students come from all over Rockland County and Northern NJ. The program primarily serves the Latino community, with individuals and families hailing from El Salvador, Mexico, Ecuador, Guatemala, and other Central and South American countries, as well as smaller groups from Haiti, Eastern Europe and Asia. A student’s ability to speak English leads to his/her advancement which impacts the local economy and provides competent workers in a large variety of fields. In addition to language classes, One to One also provides food and clothing distribution, assistance with job placement, immigration counseling, and housing information among other services. “Our students are in all different stages of immigrant status,” shared Sr. Cecilia, Executive Director of One to One Learning. “Some are studying for their citizenship test. Others have just arrived here.”
Rita Callan, (seated, right) a volunteer teacher at One to One, pictured with some of her students. These women started the program with no English comprehension and are
now approaching an intermediate level.
The teaching model at One to One is based on small group learning, allowing each person the chance to practice speaking during classes. Over 60 volunteer teachers make this small group structure possible; without their selfless dedication the program could not exist as it does. “There’s a bonding that happens between the teachers and students,” Sr. Cecilia said. “Our program creates first-hand encounters between people of different countries and backgrounds and builds bridges of understanding between them. Most of our language classes are held at night, and students attend after working all day long. They are so dedicated and really want to learn our language and our way of life. They bring their kids too- it’s a family atmosphere.”
Janet Fenton, Children’s Program Coordinator, sits with a group of children whose parents
are students at One to One Learning. The children’s program includes homework help,
story time, crafts, etc.
Sister Cecilia also shared her thoughts on the importance of this ministry given today’s social and political climate. “There seems to be a lack of inclusion in so many areas of our world right now. The One to One program helps people realize there are many Americans that really care about them and want to help them. With everything that’s happening in the country these people need to know that they’re secure. It’s very important to me to let our students know that, and they respond in beautiful ways such as bringing new people with them to classes all the time. It’s very encouraging! Our program provides hope for people — teachers and students alike — and spreads the light of goodness.”
In recent weeks, One to One Learning has seen an influx of volunteers offering their assistance with teaching, raising money, and helping out in whatever ways are needed. “We’ve had a lot of local young women, in particular, contact us who really want to do something for immigrants in response to what’s going on right now in our country. They recently learned about One to One and our work, and they have been so helpful in furthering our efforts,” said Sr. Cecilia.
As the One to One Learning program turns 20 years old, it celebrates having served over 6,000 students. A strong foundation has been laid during the past 20 years with the assistance of the Sparkill Congregation and many other benefactors. “We are so grateful to all involved," Sr. Cecilia said, “and we continue our focus on this important work, joining with other community groups to examine how we can reach out to immigrants even more.”
One to One Learning is always looking for volunteers and monetary donations. Individuals can contact Sr. Cecilia LaPietra at the One to One office for more information: 845-512-8176.
On Saturday, February 11, One to One students, alumni, teachers and staff will be celebrating the program’s 20th Anniversary with dinner and festivities. Anyone who has studied or volunteered in the program is welcome to attend and should contact Sr. Cecilia for more information. A formal 20th Anniversary celebration and fundraiser will be held on May 5th and will be open to the general public. More details will be shared on One to One Learning’s website as they become available.
A group of students at One to One’s annual Awards Ceremony, receiving their
certificates as they advance to the next level of language study.
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