“There’s not that many classes in Northeast Ohio in regards to
preparing people for citizenship or the process that people go
through to get their citizenship, especially classes that are
affordable and tailored to our community,” he said. “We have
seen how much impact those classes have had on helping people
pass their citizenship test. Those classes are very important.”
But Leandry points out the same people who take the citizenship
class also have a need to improve their English-speaking skills.
So, the classes are held back-to-back each Saturday, with the
citizenship course at 10 a.m., followed by the ESL class at
noon. Each runs two hours long.
“You don’t have to participate in both. You can choose one or
the other one,” he said. “But they are put together to
complement each other.”
Lorain Community College
conducts other ESL classes during the week, but Leandry stated
the feedback from people his agency serves is that those courses
“are too advanced” for people who may need “English 101.” So,
the Saturday courses are conducted by Oberlin College
students who must rack up some service-learning hours as part of
“They come very organized, very prepared for those classes,”
said Leandry. “They’re fantastic. I’m here some Saturdays and
sit down and see them ready to teach. Their English classes are
more one-on-one and very conversational, really helping people
to get the basics, at least.”
The need comes from the migrant farm worker community who arrive
each summer and the families who decide to stay. Lorain County
also has seen a huge influx of Hurricane Maria refugees who fled
to northern Ohio from their native Puerto Rico and decided to
settle there. While there are no specific numbers of
Spanish-speaking families, Leandry stated “we know the need is
“Maybe because it’s a long, long Saturday, people don’t stay for
the English classes,” he said. “We were asked by the community
to put on the English classes. We put it on a Saturday after the
immigration classes, thinking if people are already going to be
here for the immigration class, might as well have them stay for
the English class. I don’t want to stop that service. We want to
open it up to anyone who may need it.”
The classes involve group activities and one-on-one tutoring
There are still a
handful of classes to go before year’s end. El Centro will take
a pause over the holiday break, then resume in January.
Leandry pointed out college students also give volunteer service
hours providing child care, to make it more convenient for
parents to attend courses. There is no pre-registration
required; classes are held on a drop-in basis.
But Leandry has admitted that if attendance fails to improve, El
Centro will be forced to discontinue the Saturday ESL session.
The 2019 classes continue until December 7.
El Centro’s Gala and Chief Rivera
El Centro recently
celebrated its 45th anniversary
as an organization with a Gala event held on Saturday, Nov. 2.
The event drew more than 500 people who bought tickets, many of
them professionals in the community and the agency’s partners.
“We have so many good partnerships. That is the only way to
bring services to our community,” said Leandry. “It was a very
successful night. It is a big celebration. It is a gathering to
celebrate accomplishments and have a good time together. People
come and dance and eat.”
The keynote speaker for the event was long-time Lorain Police
Chief Cel Rivera, who is retiring December 2 after 49 years
with the local police department. Rivera has spent the last
quarter century of that public service as the police chief.
According to Leandry, the speech served as an opportunity for
Rivera to speak directly to the Latino community and say thank
During his address, Rivera told the crowd of his passion for
immigration, immigration reform, and his intent to start a
nonprofit to help the immigration situation in retirement.
“It was very powerful,”
Editor’s Note: In the photo, Victor Leandry is shown at El
Centro’s Gala in 2015.