Ashton Woods community center helps families succeed

Posted on May 31, 2013

Reposted from the UNCG Center for New North Carolinians

by Sarah Spagnola, CNNC Summer Intern

As the school year draws to a close, children and teenagers across the state close their textbooks and daydream about the sunny, fun-filled days to come — but only after they’ve taken their end-of-grade or end-of-course exams. At the Ashton Woods Community Center, the Center for New North Carolinians’ (CNNC) newest service site, the atmosphere is similarly split between intense study and jubilation as kids sharpen their pencils and get those last pieces of homework out of the way before rushing off to play. Often, their parents are busy with classes of their own as they learn how to speak English and find employment.

Since its opening last September, the Ashton Woods Community Center has offered a variety of services to refugee families living in the Ashton Woods apartment complex off Franklin Boulevard in Greensboro. Children in need of a little homework help can get it via Ashton Woods’ after-school tutoring program, while adults have access to English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes and employment readiness training. The largest groups of refugees represented at Ashton Woods are people from Sudan and the Democratic Republic of The Congo. Other families hail from Ethiopia, Iraq and Eritrea. All of the families at Ashton Woods have been in the United States for nine months or less.

Christine Brown, coordinator for Ashton Woods, sees families’ successes and struggles play out every day. In her view, the chief challenge faced by families is the language barrier. Many of the new refugees do not speak English. Those who do speak British English, which is substantially different from its trans-Atlantic offspring in terms of vocabulary.

“They kind of need to know American,” Christine said. “British English and American English are two different Englishes.”

This language barrier can make it difficult for refugees to find jobs in an already floundering economy. In addition, those refugees with college degrees or professional licenses are unable to get those credentials recognized in the United States, meaning that people who worked as doctors, accountants, and business owners in their home countries are forced to look for lower-paying and less prestigious jobs. The Ashton Woods Community Center offers employment classes for people searching for work, assisting people in job placement and coaching them through the application and interview processes. ESOL classes in the evenings allow adults to pick up the language skills they need to succeed in the workplace.

Children and teenagers are able to receive language assistance as well via the community center’s after-school tutoring program. The tutoring program runs from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. and serves 30-40 children. Most need a little help with reading and pronunciation. The kids must complete an educational activity of some kind before running off to play with their friends. The tutoring sessions allow the kids to get one-on-one help from site staff and volunteer tutors and build bridges between the refugee and non-refugee children living in the complex.

“Kids really are the same everywhere,” Christine said. “They just want to play. I was really nervous that there was going to be, like, a divide between the refugees and the non-refugee children and there really isn’t.”

In addition to English and employment training, the center offers an array of services to families living at Ashton Woods. The facility has two washers and dryers on hand for families to do their laundry. A congregational nurse comes to the community once a week to offer health services, such as blood pressure checks. Staff and volunteers help residents with things such as handling a piece of mail or scheduling a doctor’s appointment. And a Girl Scouts program provides girls with fun activities and builds resistance to bullying.

The social aspects of the community center are also of immense value to the families at Ashton Woods. The community allows residents to connect with other people from their home countries as well as with people from other backgrounds who are new to Greensboro. Contact between people who speak different languages can give both parties an opportunity to practice their English. In addition, families at Ashton Woods can let other families know of the resources available through the community center.

“It’s the first place they came to in the U.S.,” Christine said. “It’s scary, but it’s comforting for there to be a place where they can get help.”

CNNC would like to thank our partners, African Services Coalition, Church World Service, the Congregational Nurse Program, and New Arrivals for making the Ashton Woods Community Center possible.

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