Goodwill® Program Breaks Down Language Barriers for Job Success

Valmis BurgosHispanics currently make up 16.3 percent of the total U.S. population, a number expected to rise to 30 percent by 2050. Faced with burgeoning population growth and higher-than-average high school dropout and unemployment rates, this group’s need for workforce, education and other support services is greater than ever.

For Hispanic job seekers, the ability to speak English can often mean the difference between unemployment and job success. For this reason, Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette (Portland, OR) developed an ESL program that offers free classes five days a week.

“Classes are offered at four proficiency levels to help both Goodwill® employees and community members gain important skills in a learning environment sensitive to the needs of non-native speakers,” explains Alisa Drury, an ESL instructor at the Goodwill.

Topics include survival English, work¬place English, community and civic topics, financial literacy, vocational instruction, and the fundamentals of English grammar and composition.

The agency employs both group learning and individualized instruction to accom¬modate different learning styles.

“Since the program’s inception, 1,046 Hispanic community members and 353 Goodwill employees have improved their language skills and ability to function in an English-speaking workplace,” Drury notes.

Valmis Burgos (pictured above), a refugee from Cuba, came to the United States with her husband and young son. Despite early anxieties about living in a new country, she earned her first paying job in 2000 when she applied to be a clothes sorter at Goodwill’s Tigard, OR, store. With support from Goodwill services and ESL classes, she has advanced her career and now works as a cashier at the agency.

“I never say no to work, and I love it here. This job has helped my family,” Burgos notes.

She also says she looks forward to sponsoring her daughter and new granddaughter, still living in Cuba, to rejoin the family in the United States.