Roaring Fork Valley nonprofit aims to build community through English literacy
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The Fiesta de Tamales annual community dinner and fundraiser for English in Action will be held at Basalt High School on Saturday night. From 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., attendees can enjoy live entertainment, sample more than 1,200 homemade tamales, and participate in a variety of other family friendly activities. Tickets are $20 per adult, $7 per child in advance, and $25 per adult, $10 per child at the door.
Last January, Snowmass local Donnie Ryan met Josefina Jimenez for the first time.
“I absolutely adore her and admire everything about her,” Ryan said of Jimenez. “Her work ethic, her success in business, her commitment as a mom, wife and daughter … she definitely seems to be a rock in her family.”
Ryan and Jimenez aren’t coworkers, relatives, or friends of friends. Instead, the women know each other through their almost weekly meetings as an English in Action teacher-student duo.
At each one-hour session in Aspen, Ryan helps Jimenez, a native Spanish speaker, to improve her English.
“I want to speak more English and to be able to communicate more with my clients,” said Jimenez, who has lived in Glenwood Springs and operated her own cleaning company in Aspen for the past 12 years. “I want to learn because I can use (English) for everything, I guess.”
For more than 20 years, English in Action volunteers like Ryan have worked across the Roaring Fork Valley to help non-native English speakers like Jimenez learn the language for free, aiming to bridge any existing cultural divides.
In 2008, English in Action officially became its own independent nonprofit under current executive director Lara Beaulieu, who says there continues to be a high need for the literacy program across the valley.
“I’ve seen so many doors open for some of our students,” Beaulieu said. “I love the magic that happens when people with different backgrounds connect with each other.”
Last year, 368 students worked with 248 English in Action volunteer tutors who donated more than 5,500 hours of their time, according to the nonprofit website.
This year, Beaulieu said there are 150 students on a waiting list to be matched with volunteers, and the valley nonprofit is looking to sustainably continue its mission of helping immigrants or non-native English speakers better integrate into their communities.
“I’ve worked with a lot of nonprofits, but I think English in Action stands out because it really takes care of its volunteers and students,” Ryan said.
“I am so happy with this program, too, because I am learning a lot,” Jimenez added.
On the outside deck of the Pitkin County Public Library on Oct. 14, Jimenez and Ryan talked about what it’s been like to work together and learn about each other in the past year.
“Like in any relationship, building rapport is so important,” Ryan said. “But it’s not about just teaching English. It’s about giving people the opportunity to tell their stories and celebrate their lives in a new way.”
To do just that for Jimenez, Ryan said she encourages Jimenez to work with the English language in a way that helps her reach her specific goals and explore her personal interests, whether that means learning how to respond to texts from clients or better understand a book on parenting. Ryan said she even helped Jimenez design business cards.
“I am so happy. Donnie is an amazing teacher,” Jimenez said, smiling at Ryan. “My English is not perfect, but she helps me with so many of my goals.”
On Saturday, both Ryan and Jimenez plan to meet again not for a lesson, but to attend English in Action’s annual Fiesta de Tamales community dinner and fundraiser at Basalt High School.
Ryan plans to attend as a volunteer and Jimenez plans to bring her family. Both women said they hope to meet more English in Action students and volunteers there, and to invite more people to become part of the literacy program.
“I tell everyone I know to consider being a tutor or a student,” Ryan said. “It is fun, exciting, free and offers great opportunities to build community and to create relationships.”
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