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El Centro offering Citizenship, ESL Classes on Saturdays

By La Prensa Staff


El Centro de Servicios Sociales in Lorain, Ohio is encouraging Latino individuals and families to better themselves on Saturdays at the community center, by attending citizenship and English as a second language (ESL) classes.


There are a few more sessions before the end of the year, some of which have been attended by Latinos from as far away as Toledo and Cleveland. But El Centro executive director Victor Leandry knows there is still a significant local population to reach with the course offerings.

Victor Leandry


“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 their major.


“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 there.”


“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 where needed. 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 you.

Cel Rivera


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,” said Leandry.


Editor’s Note: In the photo, Victor Leandry is shown at El Centro’s Gala in 2015.  




Copyright © 1989 to 2019 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 11/19/19 20:17:50 -0800.




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