Innovative Southwest CAP Program Helps Overcome Language Barriers to Self-Sufficiency

An innovative program operated by the Southwest Community Action Program is having impressive results helping local residents learn English as a second language.

The Southwest Wisconsin Multicultural Outreach Program run by Southwest CAP is helping individuals who can’t speak English overcome barriers keeping them from achieving economic self-sufficiency. Southwest CAP is the designated Community Action Agency serving Richland, Grant, Iowa, Lafayette and Green Counties.

Instruction is primarily done one-on- one in homes, but it also occurs in bigger groups at community churches, libraries and the like. The privately-funded program was launched in Iowa County five years ago as the Hispanic population continued to increase in the area. The program now includes Grant, Lafayette and Richland Counties.

Volunteer tutors provide the instruction. Since the program began, about 100 volunteeers have taken part. Karen Rundell is one such volunteer. Ms. Rundell is a retired teacher who has worked one-on- one with Juana Marcos, originally from Guatemala, who came to Platteville seven years ago. Juana’s English has improved substantially through working one-on- one with Ms. Rundell.

“A lot of our immigrants have irregular hours working in either restaurants or farms, said Ms. Rundell, “and so this works quite well for that.” She added, “Farmers can’t operate without these workers.”

Juana works five to seven hours per day, Monday through Friday, as a housekeeper. Her husband, Pedro Lopez, is a cook. They have a 12-year- old daughter, Esther Ana, and a 4-year-old son, Pedro. “Going anywhere now and having people understand me … I’m so happy for that,” Juana said. “I try my English and people say I am doing great.”

Most participants have practical reasons for being part of the program. “It helps me understand conversations between my two children,” said Idolina Guitierrez, a baby-sitter whose husband, Memo, works in a Belmont factory. “I need to speak English for my job …” said Georgina Santacruz, who cleans homes and businesses. “I need to understand people.”

Said Sharan Ohnstad, another tutor at the Platteville library, “I think I get more out of it than the students. You hear their history, and it reminds me so much of my grandpa who emigrated here from Germany two generations ago.”

Jim Winn co-owns a 2,500-acre farm with 1,800 cows near South Wayne. The farm employs 24 people, many of whom take a weekly English-speaking class in a Wiota church. “We’re so new at this, but they’re starting to get the hang of it,” said Mr. Winn. “They’re vital to our operation. If we didn’t have them, we’d be selling this place.”

“This program is addressing basic needs of individuals who are excited about taking part in the American dream,” said Walter Orzechowski, Executive Director of Southwest CAP. “The students’ strides in their new language can be measured as simply as in the gains in their reading skills.”

For more information on the Southwest Wisconsin Multicultural Outreach Program, individuals can contact Southwest CAP at 608.935.2326 or www.swcap.org or the Multicultural Outreach Program directly at www.mcopwi.org.

(Substantial content for this article is from an article published by the Platteville Wisconsin Telegraph-Herald.)

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