Wednesday, October 20, 2010

ESL proves beneficial to Society store employees in L.A.

Helping individuals better their lives is what the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is all about. And here in Los Angeles that also includes its employees, even if it means taking time out of their working hours to do so.

In Southern California, Spanish is used by so many people that English is not a necessity for daily living. With this in mind, the idea of assisting the Society’s Spanish-speaking store employees in Los Angeles was initiated.

A free 18-week ‘English as a Second Language’ non-credited class recently was held to help employees improve their basic conversational English skills – not only for their current job, but for future employment growth and better language skills for interaction within the broader community.

“Our goal is to help the whole person, whether it’s the people we help on a daily basis or our own employees and the lives of their families. We want to see them succeed in life,” said L.A. Council Executive Director David Fields.

Twelve employees enrolled in the class were given a free hour twice a week toward enhancing their language skills. According to instructor Tony Venegoni, who enlisted the help of friend Joan Depew to volunteer their time to teach the class, the students were “eager to learn.” Both instructors had taught ESL before retiring from the Los Angeles Unified School District and saw this as an excellent opportunity to give back to the community.

After initially meeting with the students, Venegoni and Depew broke the class into two groups: ‘Beginning level A’ and ‘Beginning level B.’

“Many of (the participating employees) knew some English, while others needed to start at the very beginning, even though they had lived in this country for 10, 15 or 20 years,” said Venegoni. “They were charming and fun. The emphasis was to improve their English and motivate them to use it, especially on the job.”

Following the completion of the course, a special graduation ceremony and luncheon was held in which the students received certificates for their accomplishments.

“I want to thank the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for giving me the opportunity to learn more English. It helps me a lot at work because I’m a cashier,” said Isabel Sanchez, who was in the level B class. “I feel more comfortable (speaking English), though I still have to learn more. It helps me with reading. With my daughter, I can understand the paper work a little bit more that she brings home from school. I can understand her when she speaks English a little bit more, too.”

Venegoni, a Vincentian volunteer at the Society’s St. Elizabeth Conference, was asked by then-L.A. Council President Jim Weiss if he could conduct the class. After teaching ESL for more than 30 years in the LAUSD and the Peace Corps in Turkey, he was only too happy to return to the career he loved.

Venegoni plans on conducting another ESL class at St. Vincent de Paul in the near future.

For information on volunteer opportunities at St. Vincent de Paul, call 323-224-6288.

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