For more than 40 years, Country Homes Christian Church on Spokane’s North Side has been a haven for immigrants working to learn English.
The church’s English Language School has been thriving since it launched in 1979 to help the influx of refugees from Vietnam and other countries in Southeast Asia. It has helped about 640 students from 60 countries since its launch, program director Todd Gossett said.
The school meets from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. each Monday and Wednesday, and there are currently seven students. There are three more students waiting in the wings, but more volunteer tutors are needed, Gossett said.
Anyone can be a volunteer tutor and no teaching experience is required, Gossett said. Knowledge of other languages also isn’t required.
“None of our people speak another language,” he said. “All that’s required is a little bit of time to make a huge difference in someone’s life.”
The church provides all the necessary supplies and materials, including materials in languages from Portuguese to Pashto.
“We acquire what we need and we have lots of resources,” Gossett said.
The current students hail from China, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Afghanistan. Several other ESL programs exist in Spokane, but most of the students who come to the church do so because they are more comfortable learning in a nonclassroom environment one on one with a tutor, Gossett said.
Although the school is held in the church and hosted by the church, there is no religious content.
“We do not proselytize in any way,” Gossett said. “There is no religious connection. That’s not part of what we do at all.”
The program is also free for the students. The church hosts fundraisers to pay for needed supplies.
“It’s part of our mission,” he said. “We raise money for the English Language School.”
Tutors and their students are not limited to meeting at the church during their sessions. Often tutors will go shopping with their students and some have even helped their students study for a driver’s license test.
“It’s not just book learning,” Gossett said. “We take them out and help them experience everyday situations.”
The goal is for the students to be able to fully participate in life here, whether that’s by going to a doctor and communicating their needs or talking with their children’s teachers.
“It changes everything,” Gossett said of the ability to speak English. “It’s draining to see how hard the students are working, and so rewarding when they get it.”
The only hiccup during the school’s history happened during COVID. Tutoring sessions were suspended for nine months. It was difficult because wearing masks inhibited the lip-reading that is a necessary part of learning a new language, Gossett said.
Now that the school is back in full swing, Gossett said there are more students in need of tutors and he’d also like to expand the tutoring sessions to Fridays. Having more volunteers will help make that possible, and Gossett said teaching people to speak English is something anyone can do. It’s also very rewarding.
“Our tutors come from all walks of life,” he said. “It’s as enriching for them as it is for those learning the language. It creates lifelong relationships. The bond that’s created between the students and the tutor is forever, and it’s pretty cool.”
Those interested in learning more about being a volunteer tutor can call the church at (509) 466-3414.
“We have the need, it’s just if we can find the people to help us out,” Gossett said. “It’s a small operation, but it makes a significant difference.”
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