Maple City ESL & Culture Club is a combined ministry of Norwalk Alliance and First Baptist churches. According to information about the program, the purpose is providing “a safe place to learn language and culture, where friendships and understanding can grow across cultural lines in our community” while also practicially expressing “our love for God and our neighbor by serving immigrants in the Norwalk community.”
The free, conversational ESL classes are for adults, ages 18 and older, and covers beginner to advanced English. The Rev. Kevin Seager, pastor of Norwalk Alliance Church, said the adults can understand customs that may be confusing and the classes also can enable them to help their children with their homework.
“They can’t help if they don’t know the language,” he added.
Maple City ESL & Culture Club will start meeting Feb. 25 from 7 to 9 p.m. every Monday at First Baptist Church, 67 E. Main St., in Norwalk. Childcare for children ages 2 to 12 will be provided.
Interested adults will be interviewed during the Feb. 25 open house to determine their ESL needs.
The Rev. Dr. Tara Henderson, First Baptist pastor, said the idea that Seager presented at a Norwalk Ministerial Association meeting “took hold” of her. While the timing didn’t work out initially for other churches that are interested in Maple City ESL, Henderson said “we hope other churches will come on board.”
“I’m really excited about it,” she said, pointing out that First Baptist is across the street from the Hispanic grocery story and is centrally located. “I think there is a general need here to pursue English as a second language services. I’m not aware of any in the city.”
Seager, who lived in Spain for 12 years, said starting an ESL program “has been on my heart.”
“Shortly after being married, my wife and I moved to Spain, where we served as missionaries for 12 years. I know what it’s like to wrestle with learning language and trying to understand a different culture and what a difference kind, helpful people can make. So that’s kind of like the reverse experience of many Hispanics who have come to our community here,” the pastor said.
The perfect opportunity for an ESL program provided itself in July when Garman approached Seager with a similar idea.
“I felt like I was putting myself out there when I said it,” Garman said. “I’ve always wanted to do ESL.”
So far, 18 people have been trained to be teachers, assistants and “conversation partners.” Maple City ESL & Culture Club is based partially on an ESL program that Willard Alliance Church started about five years ago.
Garman has seen immigrants struggle with English when they are in the grocery store.
“I’ve lived in another country, so I know what it’s like not to speak the language,” said Garman, who was a language tutor in Nigeria for six years. “I think when you walk with the Lord, you are aware of the needs around you.”
Henderson said she hopes the new program will help immigrants in the Norwalk area feel less isolated and alone, provide some support and build a sense of community.
“Jesus calls us to be welcoming to strangers,” the pastor added.
For more information about the Maple City ESL & Culture Club, call the Norwalk Alliance Church office and leave a message at 419-668-9208.