Dumas Economic Development Corporation (DEDC) Board of Directors President Shawn Frische presented a Community Grant check for $3980.89 to Dumas Education and Social Ministries Board of Directors President Lisa Hatley Thursday in the Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church Pastoral Center in Dumas to support the organization's English as a Second Language (ESL) program and food pantry. The matching grant helped pay for a color copier for the ESL program, a Chromebook, some mobile carts, a smaller copier for the food pantry, and software to help track clients and inventory in the food pantry.
"Everything we had was donated and about 10 years old, and it is wearing out," said Hatley. "We are very thankful to Dumas Economic Development Corporation and all of our donors, actually; we have had a lot of community support. I think the community realizes the need we serve. We just think that if people who are new to a country can get a little bit of English just to be able to communicate a little bit at Walmart or the grocery store or the doctor's office, it just helps out a lot."
The Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church offered ESL classes for about 10 years, but when the church opened its new Pastoral Center in 2018, Father Gabriel Garcia combined the program with a food pantry and the church's program to teach refugees and immigrants the civics portion of the United States Citizenship test and created a non-denominational, non-profit organization called the Dumas Education and Social Ministries. Though the organization operates for free out of the Pastoral Center, Hatley says there are five different denominations represented on the Board of Directors, and, she says, they do not discriminate against any religion or ethnic group. The classes and food pantry are open to all, religious or not. As an official non-profit, the organization is eligible to receive grants and donations. JBS donates money to pay for the ESL instructors. By making it non-denominational, Father Gabriel hoped to broaden the support for the mission throughout the community.
Hatley says last year they were able to serve 84 individuals in three ESL classes. Next year's classes will begin in September. Classes meet twice a week for an hour and a half and go on for 12 months. Hatley says students are tested at the start and grouped by ability. They are tested again at the end of the 12 months, and, she says, most make progress. "The key is if they continue to come," she said. The classes cost $30.00 for supplies.
The students come from a variety of countries and sometimes speak languages other than Spanish. The organization often does not have instructors for the languages represented. "The instructors do a lot of acting out, and they use pictures. It is difficult at first, but it comes eventually. People pick it up. You just have to deal with it," said Hatley.
One of the big motivating factors behind adults taking the ESL classes is the citizenship test. Prospective citizens taking the test need to be prepared to answer the questions in English. "The civics classes we give are all in English," said Hatley.
The food pantry is also located in the Pastoral Center. It is open every Thursday evening from 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm. Hatley says she has seen the pantry serve as few as six families and as many as 31 on a Thursday evening.
Starting this fall, she says they hope to begin offering classes in basic financial literacy. Some refugees and immigrants to Dumas come from countries where the basic financial institutions are corrupt, and they do not trust banks or other such institutions. Hatley hopes they can begin to change this. Like all of their services, these classes are designed to make newcomers to Dumas and the United States become self-sufficient and productive. "We want them to be successful members of the community," she said.