Established in 1987 in Brighton, MA, The Literacy Connection teaches low-income adult immigrants and refugees, regardless of race, creed or gender, in one-to-one or small group settings, to read and speak English in order to attain economic self-sufficiency, to improve the quality of their lives as individuals and family members, and to become active, responsible members of the community. The program has expanded from a few students and tutors in its early years to its current enrollment of approximately 150 students who meet regularly with one of 65 volunteer tutors. In addition, in spring 2005, responding to requests from the community, The Literacy Connection established two fourteen-week citizenship preparation courses. To date, through the efforts of program tutors and the citizenship classes, 97 students have received their citizenship. Throughout these past twenty-four years, well over 600 individuals have been touched by the The Literacy Connection program which has provided them with assessment, literacy training, citizenship instruction, and workforce skills to help them become responsible and contributing members of the community.
A Growing Community Need
With major demographic and economic shifts underway in the city of Boston and the state as a whole, the ability to speak English and the level of workforce skills in the growing immigrant population have become critical factors in the health of today’s technology based economy. According to a June 2005 study, The Changing Face of Massachusetts: Immigrants and the Bay State Economy, published by Mass Inc and the Center for Labor Market Studies, Northeastern University, the percent of immigrants in the Massachusetts workforce has more than doubled over the past 25 years to 17% today, while the number of immigrants with limited English-speaking ability has risen to 21.5%. The MassINC/Northeastern Report finds that, today, immigrants whose primary language is English earn 2.5 times more than those who do not speak English well. Unfortunately, despite the growing need, public support for English language programs for adults has been reduced in recent years, and the cost of attending private language centers is beyond the reach of many immigrants. In Boston, according to the Website of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), the waitlist for students seeking literacy training holds steady at 3,500. Within Allston-Brighton alone, the combined waitlist of The Literacy Connection and the Allston-Brighton Adult Education Coalition is nearly 300 applicants.
For the more than 300,000 Massachusetts legal immigrants eligible to begin the lengthy naturalization process to become a U.S. citizen, there is an added urgency. Proficiency in the English language is a requirement of the current citizenship process and is likely to be included in potential federal legislation governing the millions of immigrants residing in the country. Uncertain futures and economic constraints confront those immigrants and refugees who do not have permanent resident status or have not become naturalized citizens.
The Literacy Connection draws its current enrollment of approximately150 students from neighborhoods and communities throughout the metropolitan area. Students currently attending the program reside in Boston’s inner-city neighborhoods of Allston/Brighton, East Boston, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, Dorchester, and Roslindale and in several surrounding communities, including Chelsea, Lynn and Quincy. Students who come to The Literacy Connection have emigrated from thirty-four different countries and regions. These students are categorized in the following ethnic groups as 10% African American, 23% Asian American, 57% Latino/Hispanic, and 10% Caucasian. The majority of students at The Literacy Connection have incomes at or below 80% of the median income, and many students are living close to the poverty level. Students range in age from 22 to 70 years; 80% are female and 20% are male.
Responding to an urgent need in the immediate community while strengthening the civic fabric of the city
The Literacy Connection has designed a program to help newly arriving immigrants and refugees move toward functional literacy, job readiness, and civic participation. The program differs from the more structured, fee-based English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programs in that it helps low-income immigrants and refugees deal with the double-bind of needing to learn English while working at one, and often two, jobs to support themselves and their families as they strive to become productive citizens in their new land. The Literacy Connection model offers one-on-one or small group tutoring with flexible scheduling, at no cost, to accommodate these specific needs of newly-arrived non-English speaking immigrants. The program helps students attain the basic literacy skills needed for acceptance into more formal education classes and the necessary communication and understanding in English to advance or be effective in the workplace.
The Literacy Connection’s citizenship preparation courses help immigrants meet their urgent desire to become naturalized citizens. Obtaining citizenship is not only a wish to commit oneself to the goals and vision of our country and a means to financial stability, it also enables individuals to become integrated into the economic and civic life of their new country and to plan a future for themselves and their families. The citizenship classes present a comprehensive curriculum designed to help students be confidently prepared for the citizenship application, written test and interview. The citizenship preparation classes teach U.S. history and civics content, provide assistance in filing the N-400 application and other documents, and strengthen the students’ English language skills in preparation for the interview process.
Sister Patricia Andrews, CSJ, Director of The Literacy Connection, has a forty-four year career in leadership positions as teacher, administrator and trustee. She is responsible for the effective administration of the program and has instituted and instructs the citizenship preparation classes. Sr. Patricia is an active member of the Allston-Brighton Adult Education Coalition and regularly engages with staff at other adult literacy programs in a concerted effort to meet the unfilled demand for adult literacy training in the Boston area. Sister Rose Canney, CSJ, Administrative Assistant, is certified at various levels in education and has twenty-five years of teaching experience. A corps of sixty-five volunteer tutors provides consistent, skilled and experienced tutoring to the students, an in-kind service valued at more than $80,000 each year.