Spotlight on Immigration--Notre Dame Learning Center. Hartford, CT
by Meg Glendon
In the heart of downtown Hartford, Connecticut, steps from a small theater and a large convention center is the Notre Dame Learning Center. Housed on the ground floor of the Franciscan Center for Urban Ministry, this vibrant center’s mission is to teach English as a Second Language to adult learners. The students range in age from eighteen to seventy and come from every corner of the world. Sister Sheila Palmer who founded the center assisted by Sister Jean Carroll, RSM, clearly loves her ministry.
There is a collegial atmosphere where students learn English in a safe and caring learning environment.
Sheila understands something of the challenges facing her students since she herself is an immigrant, coming to the United States from Jamaica."I came to the United States with an advanced degree, family in the United States and the support of my sisters in community," she said, "and still it was not always easy. I wondered how so many others who come here with nothing and often with no one could deal with the pain of leaving loved ones behind and coping with the adjustments one has to make when learning to live in a new country. It was in those early days when I left Jamaica and arrived in America that my passion for helping the immigrant community was born.”
In addition to Sheila and Jean, the staff includes SND’s Linette Doucette, Joan Farley, Pat Shanahan and several lay volunteers. On any given day, a teacher may have a class with students from Togo, Poland, Mexico, Columbia, Peru, Puerto Rico, Vietnam and Guatemala. Their prior education could range from little or none through college. However, the staff seems to thrive on the challenge.
They often divide their time between a class setting and individual coaching using the most effective method to meet the needs of each student. In addition, students often approach the staff with questions about job applications, immigration paperwork, etc. The staff at Notre Dame Learning Center uses these opportunities not only to teach English but also to help students with critical life issues in real time.
The Notre Dame Learning Center is small in size, but large in its welcoming spirit and commitment to providing its students with meaningful education for the real world!