Maria Zamudio loves not having to drive to Salem to take classes.
Rosalba Velasco is studying for her GED.
Guillermina Sierra practices her English to become a certified nursing assistant.
Gonzalo Ceballos wants to find a better job.
So what do all four of these people have in common?
They are taking English as a Second Language and classes at the First United Methodist Church in Stayton.
The program started in September 2007 after church member Mary Kruger asked Pastor Lura Kidner-Miesen if she could use the church to teach her students, who had been taking classes through Chemeketa Community College.
Kruger and her husband, Jim, moved to Stayton in 1988 after serving two years in the Peace Corps in Africa. Shortly after their move, she saw a poster asking for tutors for CCC’s Literacy Volunteer Program.
Free English as Second Language classes
First United Methodist Church
1450 Fern Ridge Road SE, Stayton
There is a small fee for textbooks.
“I went to the training and began tutoring a young woman who was just learning English,” Kruger said. “I saw her once a week in her home, and she learned the language very fast.”
Kruger later assisted Chemeketa ESL teachers with classes held in Stayton churches. After that program was discontinued, she tutored several students at CCC’s Santiam Campus two nights per week.
“I began thinking that members of my church might like to help,” Kruger said. “I asked my pastor and the church council, and they agreed.”
The program was an immediate success, serving about 40 students per term, with about 10 regular tutors and others who serve as assistants or substitutes, Kruger said.
Beginning, intermediate and advanced English classes take place on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. English tutoring, citizenship and math classes are on Tuesday mornings. And a Wednesday evening GED class led by Vivian Ang, formerly the literacy specialist with CCC’s original program, takes place.
“Vivian is an important resource and mentor for all of us,” Kruger said. “She provides training for tutors, helps us track progress with formalized testing, and currently heads the Mid-Valley Literacy Center at La Luz Del Valle Church in Keizer.”
Pastor Kidner-Miesen calls the classes “fluid,” with students coming and going. Attendance is affected by the students’ living, family and work situations, she added.
“We work with all who attend whenever they attend,” she said. “In the language area, they do go up a level as they pass certain tests, but there is no specific graduation.”
From the beginning, Kidner-Meisen said helping others has been an important part of Christianity and the United Methodist Church.
“One of our congregation’s guiding principles, or core values, is service,” she said. “Serving others blesses both the server and the one being served.”
ESL tutor Durelle Hudson learned a lot about serving the Hispanic community when she volunteered at the Stayton Community Food Bank. Her neighborliness took on a new bent when she wanted to communicate with two Hispanic women who lived across the street from her.
“I asked them to attend ESL classes and offered to go with them,” Hudson said, who is again tutoring after taking a break for several years for health issues. “The instructor, Ron Randall, soon had me helping with some of the exercises. And I quickly developed an admiration for the students who are motivated to learn our difficult English language.”
Roma Stewart said of assisting in the ESL classes, “The students are so eager to learn. I haven’t had one that wasn’t very polite and appreciative of our efforts.”
Mary Ferguson teaches in the beginning ESL class and her husband, Bob, tutors algebra as part of the GED program. A mom of four and grandmother of seven, Ferguson has been involved with the program for about two years.
“I taught high school ESL for several years, so this program was made to order for me,” she said. “The main highlight of my involvement is getting to know many new people who are working so hard to learn our language. Each has a unique story, but all have the same theme of sacrifice and struggle to better their lives here in America.”
Ferguson said working with so many other dedicated volunteers in the program has shown her Christ’s love in action.
“Getting to personally know different people from different cultures has reaffirmed my belief that all people are the same no matter where they are from,” she said. “They have the same dreams and hopes for their families. We are all brothers and sisters no matter the color of our skin or the language we speak. We are truly children of one God.”
Valerie Capps put her experience of running an elementary Learning Resource Center for 25 years to work by participating. She calls her ESL students hard working and smart.
In helping dedicated students meet their goals, she has also grown in her faith.
“One’s faith grows by having increased interaction with other teacher/church members,” she said. “They help one learn how to more effectively help others.”
Of both students and fellow volunteers she added, “The people are great and the rewards are beyond imagination. I love this job!”
At a time when cut-backs in education and especially since the closing of Chemeketa’s Santiam Campus, First United Methodist’s outreach is critical, all agree.
“We would hope that other churches and organizations in this are will join us in trying to provide these basics of education to people in our community and the surrounding areas,” Ferguson said. “The need is so great because the future of our community and our country depends on the education of all its people.”
Kidner-Meisen added, “We are praying and talking as we seek to discern God’s leading for the future of our Hispanic ministry.”
Kidner-Meisen said her congregation would continue to teach English as a way to help community members better communicate at work, school and in other settings. The church also offers offers devotional guides in Spanish, provides English-Spanish Christmas and Easter booklets, and has simple Bible activity sheets for students to practice English or give to their children, she said.
“Last spring, we gave a Bible to each household taking part in the program,” she added. “We also pray for everyone in the program.
“We plan to work with some of the students to discover additional ways we can help people with their spiritual, physical or social needs,” she added.
Feedback from the students shows their support and appreciation for the program.
“I like the teachers,” Zamudio said.
“I have been treated good here,” said Cesar Saldana, who is taking the citizenship class to get more education and a better job.
Velasco enjoys her classes, and especially her teacher, Mary Kruger.
Students are not the only ones on the receiving end, Kruger is quick to say.
“All of the tutors will agree, I’m sure, that we are rewarded during each and every class,” she said.