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ESOL and Cumbia

Posted by sebastianbrown on February 5, 2010

The group

Despite the snow and subsequent county-wide school cancellations, we went ahead with the Nob Hill community center celebration last night. After several strategic conversations with IMPACT staff I was leaning toward calling it off when all of a sudden Melvis called. “Sebastian, have you bought the chips yet? I’m getting the soda now. You should get more chips, I think lots of people are coming!” With that, the decision was made.

Just a half hour before the event was supposed to begin we got struck with some bad news. Because of some mis-communication between Juventina and I about whether or not the YMCA center would be open, she had committed to working late and thus wouldn’t be able to make the party in time. Knowing that she had volunteered to be the main facilitator for the night–not to mention how excited she had been about finally having the chance to meet more neighbors–the other members of the group and I were pretty bummed out. In addition, Melvis and Rosario were worried that many residents would assume the Center was closed/the event was postponed because of the school cancellations. Somewhat frantically, Rosario started making last minute calls to assure people that we were in fact having the event as scheduled.

Ana taking down names for the English Class

All of a sudden, spirits picked up a bit when Samuel and his cousin walked in with a professional stereo system, including two 4 foot tall speakers. Even if people didn’t show up at least the five of us would have some crystal clear and super loud music to dance to…

But before long, people began to trickle in and by 7:30 our side of the center was comfortably full of adults with the other room packed with children. Without Juventina there, Rosario took charge. Explaining all that the 6 of us had achieved over the last couple months, she welcomed everybody and led the group in personal introductions.

After everyone had stood up and briefly introduced themselves–always received with applause–Melvis took over and facilitated a dialogue about different people’s interests/hobbies outside of work. He told me afterward that this was the first time in his life he had spoken formally to a room of strangers. Even though his nerves might have shown through early on, by the end he was comfortably calling on group members and even offering his own ideas for what the discussion meant in terms of figuring out how we wish to use the space to best meet our needs. Interests ranged from reading history books about Latin America to playing soccer and dancing salsa.

Next, Samuel stood up and led the group in discussing any community/neighborhood concerns they’ve had since moving to the Nob Hill community. Even though this was just the first time that most of these neighbors had met they found new energy in realizing so many of their concerns were shared almost identically by fellow residents.

Ana Puentes, an IMPACT network member who has offered to volunteer teach the Nob Hill ESOL class, then led the group in hashing out logistical details for the class. Everyone eagerly signed up for the class and decided that two nights a week, 2 hours each night, would be a reasonable schedule for the class. They agreed that the first class would be scheduled for Tuesday Feb. 16.

Juventina addressing the group

Just as we were winding down and thinking of wrapping up the discussion in walked Juventina. Exhausted after a long day of work and also probably feeling disappointed to have missed a majority of the evening, she plopped down in a chair outside the circle. After about 5 minutes she turned to me and asked: “But it seems like the group is only focused on the English class and isn’t getting that this group also can be used as a space for community support, where we feel comfortable to share our concerns and problems with each other and together work out solutions?” Without hesitation, she stood up and got the attention of the group asking for a chance to present herself. With incredible confidence, she explained why she and the others in the core group see this project as being much more than ESOL.

With that, we turned down the lights, brought in the disco ball (I have no idea where it came from) and blasted Merengue from the speakers. Dancing for about 40 minutes, we decided 9:30 was about as late as we could go before pestering our upstairs neighbors too much. As the place cleared out, there seemed to be growing enthusiasm around trying to end the occasional ESOL class with a dance party. Stay tuned to hear how this mutual support/ESOL/dance group progresses!


One Response to “ESOL and Cumbia”

  1. Gretchen said

    the disco ball came from Samuel and his cousin – we had a long conversation about it actually, while I improved my bachata and cumbia dance skills! this community is doing awesome work!

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