'No matter your profession, you had a teacher in your life who helped you'
Manny Paul immigrated from Haiti in 2013. Though he knew very little English at the time, he was determined to continue his goal of earning a bachelor's degree in the U.S. and went on to enroll in Catholic Charities Boston's nationally recognized El Centro ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) program, where he worked closely with teachers and El Centro Director Marianna Geraskina to develop his skills.
His hard work paid off less than two years later, when he was admitted into a bachelor's degree in finance program at Northeastern University.
While a student there, Manny was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer that had spread through his head and neck -- an experience that he now credits for granting him unwavering resilience.
"I thought, 'If I'm going to die, I want to get my degree before I do,' and so I continued taking classes and doing my assignments in the hospital while receiving chemotherapy and radiation," he said.
By the grace of God and his incredible team of doctors, Manny is now healthy and in remission, living out his passion for both journalism and business as the founder of the Caribbean Television Network, a media platform that presents live news from a range of Caribbean countries.
In March of 2023, he returned to celebrate the opening of El Centro's new Adult Education Center in Jamaica Plain, saying he would not be where he is today without the support of Marianna and the El Centro community. With spacious classrooms and state-of-the-art technology, the new center has quickly become a cherished, vibrant space among students and teachers.
Beyond being educators, Catholic Charities teachers are mentors, career advisors, confidantes, and companions to their students, helping them to recognize and harness their innate strengths and talents.
"Marianna and all of the El Centro staff see things in us that we often cannot always see ourselves," said Manny.
Viergine Santil, a recent graduate of Catholic Charities Boston's Haitian Multi-Service Center (HMSC) ESOL Program in Dorchester, shares Manny's immense gratitude for the Adult Education teachers she met at Catholic Charities.
Having immigrated from Haiti to Boston in 2021, Viergine immediately reached out to Catholic Charities Boston, eager to strengthen her English-speaking skills so that she could begin pursuing a meaningful career in her new community.
"My teacher helped me to set the bar higher than I ever thought I could," said Viergine.
In addition to helping her feel more confident in her English, Jane Snyder, a teacher at the HMSC, helped Viergine to secure a competitive fellow position at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center through the African Bridge Network Fellowship, a training and work-placement program, which places 30 talented, diverse, and multilingual immigrant professionals from different regions of the world in a paid fellowship in a fast-paced work environment with financial, healthcare, or research employers in the Greater Boston, Metro North, and Worcester areas.
Viergine is currently working full-time as a supervisor at Beth Israel, an opportunity she said would not have been possible without the constant encouragement and support of her teacher Jane.
"No matter what profession you are in, you had a teacher in your life who helped you get to where you are," she said.
Still, the need to support hardworking students eager to achieve sustainable employment and economic stability continues to grow.
The crucial demand for quality ESOL programs like those at Catholic Charities is evidenced by the overwhelming number of non-English-speaking individuals who are unable to secure jobs.
Immigrants in Massachusetts make up about 16 percent of the total population. Of working-aged adults, 10 percent are limited English proficient. In Greater Boston in 2019, there were approximately 241,530 working-age adults who self-identified as having limited English proficiency but only about 11, 600 seats in ESOL classes available.
To address this need, as well as the critical need for health care workers in the U.S., Catholic Charities Boston is launching an online Healthcare Bridge ESOL program that allows individuals who are looking to improve their English skills to develop the skills needed to work in a healthcare environment. The program is currently accepting applications, with its first class slated to start in July 2023.
Catholic Charities Boston's Adult Education and Workforce Development division has five Education Centers that offer ESOL and adult basic education in Brockton, South Boston, Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, and Lynn. Classes are free of charge and help adult immigrants learn the English language and develop comprehension in speaking, reading, and writing.
Learn more about Catholic Charities' programs at ccab.org.
SHANNON LYONS IS THE PR AND COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER FOR CATHOLIC CHARITIES BOSTON.