Meet IU13 Community Education Alumni
Expressing gratitude and confidence in the future!
I write with a message of gratitude and hope. Gratitude because I’ve been helped. Hope because I am moving forward to a brighter future for me and my family. But my hope will extend to others as well, for it is a necessity to spread it. When you receive generously, it’s worth giving back the same way, or even more. “Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves,” would agree Horace Mann.
I am a former journalist from Haiti. I came to the US in December 2018, fearing for my life and the safety of my family. One year later, I was granted asylum, but my hardship didn’t stop then. I went through so many difficulties at that time that I felt hopeless, melancholic, angry, and the list of negative thoughts can go on and on, until I called Church Work Service (CWS) for help here, in Lancaster, and they referred me to Lancaster-Lebanon IU13’s Refugee Center.
Before coming to the Welcoming City of Lancaster, I relentlessly searched for a job with no success. I remember applying on Indeed for at least 200 positions. None of these efforts was successful. Then CWS helped me find a factory job in which I worked hard for 8 months. It was a difficult, but meaningful experience. Imagine for a second, a “lost journalist” working on a production line! I am so thankful though; I could provide for my family.
Meanwhile, CWS put me in contact with IU13’s Refugee Center via Career Pathways for English Learners. My cultural navigator helped me understand so much about day-to-day norms and customs, and he provided me with information about college education, financial aid, and career opportunities that might be suitable. I entered Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) in 2021, and I will complete my 2 years of associate degree training in Human Services next spring. I am so, so grateful.
I had the opportunity to participate in an IU13 English class where I interacted with other refugees and asylees. I enjoyed placing my words in some discussions related to politics, civics, culture, philosophy, and other topics that I am fond of. Through that class, my wife and I had the opportunity to enroll in micro-credential training provided by the IU, to work with kids dealing with disabilities. We learned a lot. That training, in fact, reminded me of sad realities in Haiti where kids with disabilities most of the time are ignored. As a journalist, I used to echo their voice, to denounce those injustices.
Following this training, my wife Marie, who used to be a kindergarten teacher, and I were hired full-time by the IU13 to work with these kids. For about two years, I mixed work and study to achieve my goal. My goal is to better myself and raise my family, and my goal is to construct myself by giving back to my new community.
My viewpoint on gratitude aligns with Melody Beattie’s conception. She believes that “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” By borrowing her words, I am expressing my gratitude and my confidence in the future. I learn from my past in Haiti, where I lost everything: my culture, my friends, my wealth. Now I have peace, which helps me embrace my future.
I have always been a grateful and positive person. The IU13 Refugee Center has nurtured these feelings in me. Let’s keep the benevolence and love alive for a brighter future for our neighbors who are seeking refuge among us! They will certainly give back to the community.
From learning English to founding her own company!
In 1996, Colombia, South America native Patricia Roldan had the opportunity to immigrate to the United States. She understood no English other than her name and country. She learned about IU13 from a friend and, when she moved to Pennsylvania to live with her and her family, she signed up for classes.
Patricia enrolled in English as a Second Language (ESL) as well as High School Equivalency (HSE/GED) classes, where she met Tim Shenk, an ESL teacher at the time and current Program Director, with whom she’s still in contact today. When asked about her experience with IU13 Community Education, Patricia responded, “I would like to express gratefulness to all of you at IU13 who contributed to my learning of English basics–my abc’s and 1,2,3s–who worked so hard with long hours disregarding the amount of hours…. To those whose goal was to teach and give the best tools possible for us, the students, to be able to communicate essential needs.”
When she lived in Colombia, Patricia earned degrees in hospital administration and integrative medicine, but her education was not recognized in the US. She decided to become a registered nurse (RN) and earned a diploma from the former Lancaster General Hospital’s School of Nursing in 2005. As an RN, Patricia worked as a staff nurse in medical surgical, telemetry and step-down intensive care units. She also gained experience in independent living facilities, skilled care, and hospice services.
With a personal healthcare philosophy based on mental and physical wellness, and after witnessing the concerns of others, Patricia has chosen to become a private patient advocate. She provides independent personalized nursing care and advocacy services to her clients at the time they need it with a whole-person approach in mind. Patricia also founded her own company that delivers skilled nursing care and support services.
Patricia has the professional qualifications to help individuals remain safely in their own home for as long as possible, or until they achieve complete recovery. She promotes wellness and empowers her clients to manage their health. Of her entrepreneurship, Patricia notes, “I feel proud of myself and my husband Andrey, whom I met at IU13, for all our accomplishments as small business owners. It has been challenging, but fulfilling. We would not be where we are today if IU13 had not given us the tools.”
Patricia’s hope is to create awareness for immigrants and challenge them to achieve their career goals, regardless of their situation. When asked what advice she would give to potential adult learners, she replied, “I invite others like me who came new to the country (United States) to reach out to IU13 to seek assistance and work diligently in acquiring the new language. It requires time, patience, humility, and dedication, but in the end it will benefit you, your family, and the community. You will be able to a certain level express your needs, communicate with others and offer comfort to many who are in need. Learning the language will help you achieve your dreams and personal goals, which will give you more quality of life.”
Patricia points out that language skills are necessary not only to survive, but also to be able to function well within the community. “To this day, after 26 years of living here, I continue to face challenges with the language. I realize I will never be able to express myself fully as many of you who were born and raised in this country.”
To those who have benefited from classes, Patricia urges them to contribute to the mission of IU13 by advocating for funding: “My wish is for the government to support adult education and look at it as an investment…. Also, for them to create other programs that provide additional support to those of us who try to succeed in our endeavors and professions that bring support to the community.”
Attending college, supporting his community, and more!
As a recent college graduate, Zach was looking for training programs that not only appealed to him but also offered job advancement opportunities. He attended Word of Life Bible Institute and received a two-year certificate, which he planned to use to help his local church and his community. He wanted to do more, however, so he researched other fields that would work well with the certificate he already had.
He finally decided to pursue a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), as his grandfather, father, and numerous friends and family members had worked as truck drivers. A CDL license would allow him to help people move in and out of homes and apartments, take local and on-the-road jobs, and be home on the weekends to serve in his church.
Through his church, Zach learned about IU13 Community Education and reached out to start the licensing process. IU13 staff enrolled him in CDL training, providing the necessary resources. “The people I worked with along the way have been greatly helpful and supportive of me from start to finish,” Zach said. “IU13 allowed me to get the training necessary to pursue my desired careers.”
Zach completed an entry-level driver training course in March 2022 and is now the proud holder of a Class A Commercial Driver’s License.
Immigration, learning English, and more!
Watum was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2003, his parents moved to Uganda because of war. As a refugee, he faced many challenges, including lack of education.
When he came to the United States in 2018, he joined an English as a Second Language (ESL) class to improve his English. After a year of ESL instruction, Watum transitioned into high school equivalency classes and earned his GED in June 2021. During that time, he connected with staff at CareerLink for assistance finding employment and learning about training opportunities.
Today, Watum works at Lancaster General Health and hopes his story will encourage anyone who’s interested in learning English to reach out to IU13.
Raising her son, taking care of her disabled sister, and more!
Felicia connected to the Lebanon Youth Program because her sister was a participant at that time. Felicia currently has a 21 month old son and is due with her second child. Felicia currently supports her family by working at InstaCart as a personal shopper, so she can choose her jobs and hours.
“Life is too short,” Felicia said, “so if there’s an opportunity, take it; you may not know what tomorrow brings.”
She became interested in the medical field after attending her mother’s doctor appointments with her before she passed. Her career goal is to become an EKG Technician. Felicia started the MedCerts EKG course on February 10 and successfully completed it on May 5, 2022. She is currently preparing to complete the clinical component (hopefully at Penn State Hershey) and take her certification exam.
Reaching for his dreams and more!
A recent graduate of Cedar Crest High School and the Lebanon County Career and Technology Center (CTC), Jose faced obstacles that could have deterred him, but his gentle disposition, positive attitude, dedication, and perseverance contributed to his ultimate success.
Diagnosed with a disability and given an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), Jose attended the Cornwall-Lebanon School District for 14 years. During his time at CTC, he enrolled in the Pastry Arts Program while working at McDonald’s and living with a foster family. When living with one foster family, he endured abuse and was ultimately removed from that placement.
A difficult home life and transition to a new home did not deter Jose from his dreams of working in pastry arts/culinary arts. His first step in achieving his goal was through the IU13 Lebanon Youth Program; Jose completed a 90-hour paid work experience at a local sandwich shop. From there, he was approved for a two-week training period at Hiram G. Andrews Center. Shortly after completion of that program, he was hired by the Hotel Hershey as a prep cook. Jose’s response to these trainings and eventual hiring? “I can’t believe all of these things are happening to me!”
Dropping out of high school, raising kids, and more!
When Elizabeth was 17, she gave birth to her first child. Unable to afford childcare and lacking family support, she dropped out of school to raise her baby. Elizabeth has struggled to find a job with a sustaining wage that does not require a GED. After the birth of her fourth child, and now working two jobs to keep a roof over their heads, she decided to pursue her education. In 2019, she registered for high school equivalency (HSE) classes with IU13 Community Ed. Within a year, she passed four out of five subject tests, but had three unsuccessful attempts to pass the final exam. Feeling like a failure, Elizabeth became depressed and did not attempt the test again in 2021.
Elizabeth shares, “It was hard battling with everything inside, but with my counselor’s help, I overcame my fear of failing again and in January 2022 made the appointment for my reading test.” Elizabeth took her final test on February 25 and passed. “Hard work pays off,” she said. “But the look on my kids’ faces and my feeling of self-accomplishment is what matters most.”
Supporting a baby, girlfriend, and more!
Jean initially contacted the PA CareerLink for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) services and was referred to the Lebanon Youth Program due to his age. Jean has an eight month old daughter and is an English Language Learner. He resides with his girlfriend and baby, and supports his family through employment at a warehouse.
His career goal was to become a truck driver. So, he started his CDL class A training at 160 Driving Academy on March 28, and successfully completed the program on May 18, 2022, earning a Certificate of Completion. Jean received his CDL License on June 7, 2022.
While Jean was taking the classes, he received ongoing encouragement from his job trainer as well as supportive services to help pay for additional courses and PA Department of Transportation fees. Jean recently obtained employment as a truck driver doing deliveries for Lowes.
Opening doors to greater job options, college coursework, and more!
Since he passed the GED exams, Jose has found a higher-paying job, started college coursework, and acquired an unshakeable sense of accomplishment. “I feel so proud of myself,” he says. Though studying for the exam demanded a great deal of time and energy, “It was worth the effort, worth the push.”
In early 2014 Jose joined an IU13 Family Literacy class at Carol B. Winters Head Start Center in Lancaster. It had been 12 years since he dropped out of high school at age 18, but he entered the classroom with a strong and singular motivation – to earn his GED. “I needed to set a goal for myself, and I put nothing ahead of it,” he said.
Jose immediately sensed that his classmates had grown discouraged over the challenges of the GED. Although the new version of the GED, which was launched in 2014, is more rigorous than previous versions, Jose didn’t let that discourage him.
“He motivated other students and pushed them to progress,” said his IU13 instructor, Leesa McAnally. “Jose student a great deal outside of class and would come in with questions for me.”
Jose’s hard work paid off when he passed the GED exam that summer. Shortly afterward he found significantly higher-paying work operating an industrial sewing machine. In an effort to continue his education, Jose also starting taking classes at a local community college.
Passing the GED “opened more than one door,” said Jose, “and they continue to open.”
Improving English language skills, making friends, and more!
- Since arriving as a refugee in 2014, Binit has participated in English conversation classes, after-school activities, and a summer educational program. Read more about Binit here.
One of the young learners benefiting from IU13 Community Education is 13-year-old Binit. Since arriving in Lancaster as a refugee in April 2014, Binit has participated in English conversation classes, after-school activities, and a summer educational program.
These activities are all coordinated through the Refugee Center and Community School at Reynolds Middle School in Lancaster, where Binit is a student. In addition to improving their communication skills, Community School participants “get to make friends and network with other refugees in Lancaster, which helps to increase their social adjustment,” says Josh McManness, Community School Liaison. IU13 Community Education is lead agency for the Refugee Center and Community School at Reynolds, which provides community-based support services for refugees and immigrants in need, school families, and the Lancaster City community, particularly those with limited access to resources.
These services help community members succeed in their roles as workers, family members, and citizens. In the case of young Binit, the investment is paying off. “Binit likes living in the United States,” says his mother, Sipra Gajemir. “It’s good that he’s getting educated. It will help him in the future.”
“Facing a drop-dead deadline, GED student beats the odds.” (photo credit: Lancaster Newspapers)