Volunteer Tutors at the West Hill Refugee Welcome Center, 104 Ontario Street, Albany

Literacy Volunteers of Rensselaer County, in partnership with the West Hill Refugee Welcome Center (RWC), is providing high-quality, learner-centered English language instruction at no cost to adult learners at the RWC in Albany, New York.

Literacy Volunteers of Rensselaer County brings 55 years of expertise to the process of teaching adults and providing professional development and support to volunteers. LVORC’s approach focuses on the needs and interests of adult learners, helping them to meet the goals they set for themselves. LVORC helps adults to obtain the language skills they need to get jobs, become involved in their children’s education and participate in community life.

The Refugee Welcome Center (RWC) is a nonprofit organization serving some of the more than 4,000 refugees who have been resettled in the Capital Region since 2005. As part of this initiative, the West Hill RWC at 104 Ontario Street accommodates a variety of needs and services, including student homework help, public health lessons, and English language classes.

Executive Director of LVORC, Nancy Benz, says “LVORC’s collaboration with the West Hill Refugee Welcome Center is a showcase for the range of literacy services and expertise LVORC provides. By involving the community and providing ongoing support to volunteers and program participants, we are able to meet the needs of learners in unique and important ways. We are helping the RWC to strengthen its own mission and identity, while helping learners to meet the challenges of their new lives here in the Capital region.”

Volunteers of the Refugee Welcome Center have been trained by Literacy Volunteers to provide instruction to English Language learners at the West Hill RWC. Six leveled groups meet for two sessions weekly, some with childcare provided. By meeting learners in the neighborhood where they live and providing childcare on site, barriers to attendance are removed.

The majority of English language learners at RWC are women. Most have had no previous access to education; many have between 2 and 10 years of education, often with multiple interruptions. Most of the women are Pashto or Farsi/Dari-speakers from Afghanistan. Others are Arabic-speakers from Sudan, Somalia, and Syria and Karen speakers from Burma.

LVORC and the West Hill RWC are helping learners to communicate basic needs and ideas, and to foster a sense of wellbeing – the feeling of safety that comes from having adequate communication skills, and the ability to use their language skills to advocate for themselves and for their families. Wellbeing includes employability and job retention, both of which are dependent on language skills, and the confidence that is developed as language skills improve.

According to RWC Volunteer Coordinator, Kasey Jacob, “The RWC strives to provide an inclusive, supportive, and educational environment to all individuals who walk through our doors. Literacy Volunteers of Rensselaer County has supported both our learners and teachers through accessible and high-quality lesson materials, advisement, and training sessions. It has been a pleasure to watch our learners grow their skills, confidence, and ambition.”