Opening the Door to Volunteering
After moving to the area, Justin and Fernanda felt disconnected from their new community. What helped change that, they say, was helping others adjust to their own new surroundings.
After seeing an ad on Instagram, Justin and Fernanda began volunteering with The Open Door, a nonprofit organization focused on strengthening communities and immigrant families through classes in English as a second language, mathematics, children’s literacy and computers. Anyone can matriculate to the classes, and the best part is that they are completely free. The group aims to empower immigrant families to reach their “God-given potential.” Between their two locations, 300 people participate in the program.
For the first six months, Fernanda was volunteering as a teaching assistant to another teacher. When the teacher had to move on to another class, Fernanda began teaching herself. Because it was such a big class of basic-level students learning English, Fernanda got her husband involved as well.
“We didn’t have any teaching experience before volunteering there and we have been learning as we go,” Fernanda said. “But there is a curriculum that we can follow and it is pretty straight-forward. The most important thing really is to love the students and create a safe space for them to grow in community.”
On a typical evening, Justin and Fernanda arrive at Nazereth Baptist Church in West New York at 7 p.m. to teach level 4 (most advanced) English once a week. The teacher from the previous day will email them where she stopped in the book and they will then follow from there. They try to mix in writing, speaking and reading exercises, then take a 15-minute break to listen to a Bible story or a motivational speech. After speaking only English so the students can practice with them, the night ends at 8:30 p.m.
Volunteering with The Open Door has been a life-changing experience, the couple says they now feel like part of the community. They even run into their students on the street and get introduced to their families.
Volunteering has also helped them become closer to God. The students are a constant inspiration, Justin and Fernanda say. As they get to know them better, they hear about their journeys. It has not been easy for many of the students, but they are so faithful that it motivates Justin and Fernanda and boosts their own faith in Him.
Even their Dinner Group has gotten involved, visiting one night in March for “Conversation Night.” They had some questions written down, but it was not necessary to use them because the conversation flowed quite easily. Some of the topics included the experience of living in a different country with a different culture, favorite foods and what they liked to do for fun when they were kids. Justin and Fernanda describe it as a very emotional evening because the students truly felt loved and were excited to see that this group was paying attention to them and wanted to get to know them. For their Dinner Group, the experience overflowed with love and kindness. For Justin and Fernanda, it was a great opportunity to love their students and to get to know them better. It was also a great opportunity to love their Dinner Group and give them the chance to get to know this special group of students.
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