By Dhananji Rathnayake and Magdaline Mbong

Students and teachers of the Hope House English Language Program (HHELP), a program of Hope Acts, gathered for their first in-person celebration since the onset of the pandemic. The gathering took place at Hope House on Sherman Street, Portland, where teachers and students were delighted to meet each other face-to-face for the very first time. Many teachers exchanged hugs with students they have been working with for months but have never met in person.

“I’m happy to meet my teachers. The class helps me feel confident in speaking and understanding English at my new job,” said Sajjad, an Advanced Beginner student who was promoted to the Intermediate level at the event. “I really enjoy the classes and want to keep studying with Hope House to improve my English. Thanks to everyone involved.”

Sarah Gauvin, HHELP program manager, noted, “Before the pandemic, we had a tradition of getting our HHELP students together at the end of a semester to celebrate their achievements and spend time with their instructors outside of the classroom. Since transitioning to a remote model, there’s been less opportunities to meet their fellow classmates and teachers in person. And while there is so much value in remote learning in terms of accessibility and convenience for our students, it was so nice to give everyone the opportunity to connect in the ‘real world’ again! The warmth and appreciation in that room was immense. We look forward to planning similar celebrations in the future.”

Linda Carleton, Lead Basic Beginner Teacher; Arlene, Student;Sarah Gauvin, HHELP Program Manager; Simphor, Student.
Photo | Magdaline Mbong

In addition to deepening connection, the event celebrated the season, recognized outstanding student attendance and efforts – such as by Sajjad –  and formally thanked HHELP’s volunteer team for their dedication to the remote program. The English Language Program is operated entirely by a dedicated team of volunteers that includes Linda Carleton, John Messer, Susan Gilpin, Theresa McCarthy, Dorothy Cook, Juliet Karelsen, Joanne Mannell, and Naomi Menikoff, who generously contribute their time to supporting the immigrant community in learning English. These volunteers engage with students twice a week through platforms such as Zoom and WhatsApp and provide a chance for adults at beginner and intermediate levels of English to develop their skills in reading, writing, listening, and spoken English language. In addition to Program Manager Sarah Gauvin, Francois Mayesi is Assistant Program Manager.

Class intakes are ongoing, with rolling admissions. For information about the program or to register for classes, see  hopeacts.org/english-language-program-hhelp/. Or contact a staff member: Sarah Gauvin, Program Manager (English and Spanish speakers) [email protected]; Francois Mayesi, Program Assistant (French and Lingala speakers): [email protected].