Guest speakers laud Literacy Center
The success of The Literacy Center’s education efforts were on proud display Oct. 5 at the Great Room on the Allentown campus of Muhlenberg College. Three guest speakers showed off their public speaking skills in English as they each made brief remarks before a roomful of fellow students, teachers and board members and sponsors of The Literacy Center. A smattering of political representatives and well-wishers, plus some proud family members of the speakers, rounded out the audience.
“This evening represents what America has always stood for: a nation built on the strength of immigrants, slaves, seekers, adventurers, hard workers and those willing to do what needs to be done to support our families, get ahead to realize the American dream,” said Nikki Gutgold, who opened the evening’s events. Gutgold is a professor of communication at Penn State Lehigh Valley.
Avery Smith, the board president for The Literacy Center invited the attendees to meet “three special students”: Mina Mouine from Morocco, Ravens Garcon from Haiti, and Gerson Ortiz from Chile.
Smith also recognized board member Marco Calderon, himself a graduate of the Literacy Center’s English language program. Calderon, originally from Mexico, is a well-known local photographer who provided the portraiture exhibit, “Faces of Literacy,” featuring area residents who help make up the rich cultural tableau of Lehigh Valley society.
The Muhlenberg College Wesco School of Business hosted the event, which was chaired by the “First Lady” of Muhlenberg College, Harvard Law School graduate Diane Pierce-Williams. In spite of her impressive background (former professor at Loyola University New Orleans’ College of Law, and graduate of Hampshire College) Pierce-Williams focused on her stint as a tutor with the Literacy Volunteer of Massachusetts, “an organization similar to The Literacy Center. I feel I am among friends.
“So, congratulations to this year’s honorees,” said Pierce-Williams. “I stand in awe of you. I appreciate and admire your efforts.”
“Picture this!” said the first speaker, Mina Mouine, who made it clear that the caliber of students who attend The Literacy Center can be very high. “I [was] a teenager living a very good life in Morocco. So why leave? Because being too comfortable means no growth. It means keeping things the way they are.”
Mouine came to the U.S. at 19 to seek an education. She already speaks French, Arabic and Berber, but she added English to her skill set to pursue her education in the U.S. She is a computer science graduate of Northampton Community College, and has stayed on to study engineering at Northampton Community College. A full-time Amazon employee, she was recently promoted to IT Equipment Coordinator for the company. She thanked The Literacy Center “for setting me on my path.”
The second speaker, Gerson Ortiz, is from Chile, where he worked as an operations manager for Citibank. After visiting friends in New York, he traveled to see more friends in North Carolina, but took the wrong bus. This brought him to Allentown, where he eventually attended The Literacy Center to improve his English skills.
Ortiz credited instructor Judit Garger with helping him learn English. “She is so patient! [Completing] all three levels of English classes [gave] me enough confidence to start looking into what I really liked: karate classes. He is now a martial arts instructor at the YMCA.
The final speaker, Ravens Garcon from Haiti said, “I had no other choice than to start learning the English language in order to move on with a better life for me and my family!” He said he had recovered from a serious accident and then decided to enroll in college, but realized that he needed a GED to get into college. The Literacy Center also helped with his GED and in 2016 NCC accepted Garcon. “I’m halfway to my associate’s degree and I work full time.”
The music group IC Collective entertained while the evening moved on to a silent auction fundraiser.
Sponsors of the event included Muhlenberg College Wesco School of Continuing Education, Boyle Construction Management, Highmark Blue Shield, Campbell, Rappold & Yurasits Certified Public Accountants, EBC Printing, Working Dog Press, Marco Calderon Photography, Jeff A. and Roberta G. Epstein Family Foundation, James Satanasto, Philip and Maryann Weber, Mr. and Mrs. James Wick, Diane Pierce-Williams of Muhlenberg College, and Patricia Zajac.
The Literacy Center, according to information provided, reaches a significant number of immigrants and refugees motivated to build upon their literacy and English language skills in order that their families can thrive and they can succeed in the U.S. Adult student applicants in 2016 represented 57 countries of origin and 28 different home languages.