LIFE at Wheaton Bible Church

Home of Wheaton Bible Church's Quarterly Magazine

ESL Classes Come to Puente del Pueblo

Krim and Leyla (pictured with their tutor Ginny) connected to ESL after a case management meeting at Puente.

What would it mean to Hispanic or Middle Eastern immigrants to be able to fluently communicate in English? Everyday transactions would be simplified, workplace instructions would be clarified, private medical and legal conversations could take place without assistance, and in emergencies—when no translator is nearby—vital information could be communicated accurately.

For some of our neighbors in the Westwood Apartments, the ability to read and speak English would empower them to function independently in a culture where English is the primary language of business and government. For that reason, the need for ESL (English as a Second Language) classes at Westwood has long been dramatically clear—with members of nearly 100 households signing up for the instruction even before plans to offer the ESL classes were finalized.

For one Spanish-speaking husband and father, learning how to read and speak English would change his entire outlook on the future. “Yo sería un vencedor,” he told a Puente staff member. Translation: “I would be a conqueror.” Another saw English proficiency as a key step on the path to U.S. citizenship. For still others, it would be the end of miscommunication through translators and misunderstood messages at work.

Many of the tutors, like Sally, begin their sessions with prayer.

Today, thanks to a partnership with Literacy DuPage and our North Avenue neighbor Community Fellowship Church—and an outpouring of volunteers—ESL students are meeting weekly, in groups of one to three, with a newly trained ESL volunteer.

When the volunteers stepped forward to serve as tutors, most of them were raw recruits. In fact, being an ESL tutor requires no special background in education or language studies. But thanks to their willingness to participate in a six-session training program taught on Sunday afternoons, they are now fully certified tutors—and nearly 25 teacher/ learner groups are meeting each week!

“I am delighted to say our facility space is getting maxed out as we use every bit of space to accommodate our learning groups!” said Puente del Pueblo Director Matthew McNiel. “It has been a joy to see the tutors’ enthusiasm and courage. The students are so eager for knowledge! We have never advertised this program in the community, but even so, new prospective learners approach us every week.”

Helping shape Puente del Pueblo’s ESL effort is WBC member Dave Onufrock, who has long felt a call to use his professional training in a ministry context. An instructor at University of Illinois at Chicago’s Tutorium in Intensive English, Dave was a natural to help the Puente del Pueblo team choose the organizational partner who could best provide the tutor-training program and ESL curriculum. “Dave’s insight at key decision points has been invaluable in getting this program off the ground and helping us settle on Literacy DuPage,” said Local Impact Pastor Chris McElwee. “And they have turned out to be the perfect organizational partner for our program.”

As the details for Puente’s ESL classes were coming together, Dave’s prayer journal reflected his heart for this new opportunity to serve the families at Westwood: “Lord, I want to pray more specifically for this ESL start-up at Puente del Pueblo,” he wrote. “Thank you for helping me see how I can use my professional skills for Your Kingdom. I met with Matthew and Irene [Owens, Case Manager], and the ball started rolling. Lord, I’ve been around the block professionally, but I think you’ve just moved me to a new subdivision… and finally, next week, there’s the first leadership meeting for interested leaders/teachers. I don’t know any of the people on the list, but that doesn’t matter… What do You have in mind? What’s on Your agenda for this time? You know the skills of those at the meetings. Take this, Lord, it’s Yours. . . .”

The reports from tutors as they concluded their training and had their first meetings with their students offer clear indications that Dave’s prayer is being answered. ESL classes – Puente del Pueblo’s latest outreach to their people of Westwood – are off to a solid start.


“Tutoring/mentoring is not in my comfort zone, but the more I learned in training, the more I knew this was a step I needed to take. The more training I had, the more excited I got and the more I felt God was leading me in this direction. I knew I made the right decision because a feeling of peace and comfort came over me when I met my two students and realized the impact ESL tutoring will make in their lives. What a blessing to me to help them improve their lives and, hopefully, share the Gospel with them sometime in the future. I feel God has put me in this position to impact my life as well as the lives of my students.”
—Sally Wirth

“Because I’m somewhat shy, I was anxious about meeting my student. I soon realized my student was just as anxious, but easy smiles and encouragement eased the anxiety quickly, and now I’m really looking forward to meeting with my student and learning from him as he strengthens his English skills.”
—Cecilia Najera

“Despite a definite language barrier, we formed a relationship at the first lesson. I could see pride in one student as she relaxed and did well. The more timid student was less ‘threatened’ by the process. We parted with a hug and smiles.”
—Deborah H. Schultz

“We laughed a lot. I just loved their excitement My three students ha been here [in the US] for 15, 16, and 26 years. Two still knew no English, and one very little. Three beautiful, bright women who felt so insecure about life. I am excited to help them grow more comfortable in this country with what it has to offer. I’m excited that they will be an example to their children and other women in the community.”
—Madelyn Pescatore

“We volunteer for Puente del Niño Afterschool Program. It made sense to extend this ministry to adults in the same community, perhaps even the parents of some of the niños.”
—David Grace

There is still a waiting list of eager students, so Puente is organizing another tutor-training program in the fall. Contact Barb Westrate, Puente del Pueblo Volunteer Coordinator.

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