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The Gift of Language
Zoe Fuhrman ’14 (l.) and Charlotte Roth ’14 lead an English class for refugees from Bhutan at St. Peter's United Church of Christ on Nov. 8. The church, at the corner of Buchanan and College Avenues, organizes programming to help immigrants adapt to life in Northwest Lancaster.
Two first-year Franklin & Marshall students head to class shortly before 9 a.m. on a chilly Monday in November. But unlike many of their friends, their destination is not the Hackman Physical Sciences Building, Stager Hall or any of the College’s other academic buildings. They walk to the south end of campus, and then cross Buchanan Avenue to their destination—St. Peter’s United Church of Christ.
Inside the church, Zoe Fuhrman ’14 and Charlotte Roth ’14 take their places at the front of a classroom. Just two months into their college careers, they have become teachers, leading an English class for refugees from Bhutan. They hold up pictures to teach words such as “sing,” “hug” and “write.”
“I can’t imagine moving to a new country and not knowing a word of that country’s language,” Fuhrman says. “These refugees are so incredibly brave. It is an honor to get to know them and their stories, and to be a part of shaping their futures in America.”
Fuhrman and Roth are part of a growing contingent of F&M students who are teaching English to refugees at St. Peter’s. This semester, more than a dozen students volunteer at least one morning each week. The neighborhood around the church has seen an influx of immigrants from Bhutan, Burma and other countries over the past three years, and the church has been instrumental in helping its neighbors adapt to life in Northwest Lancaster.
“We really believe in being a good neighbor,” says St. Peter’s Pastor Bonnie Hollinger. “When the first family came three years ago, we helped them find food and jobs, but we also discovered that they were lacking in English skills. We thought we might as well start English classes. Volunteers showed up from the neighborhood, and it just keeps growing and growing.”
Hollinger is a member of the Campus Community Coalition, which promotes activities to strengthen the relationship between F&M and its neighboring community. So when Hollinger needed help with a refugee from Somalia, she called F&M’s Ware Institute for Civic Engagement. “Within one hour, we had a call from someone on campus who could help,” Hollinger says.
F&M’s relationship with the church developed further when Hollinger and Linda Hess, the church secretary, noticed that some of the refugees required extra tutoring. Hess contacted F&M, and the Ware Institute arranged for students to teach beginning English classes. “F&M students tutor people who need help the most,” Hess says. “They’ve been wonderful, and word is getting around.”
Allison Wein ’13 coordinates the student volunteers with Hess. At least two F&M students volunteer at the church for an hour each morning from Monday to Thursday, with even more showing up on Friday afternoons. In addition to Fuhrman and Roth, regular volunteers include Madison Kille ’11, Laura Morse ’12, Reilly Noetzel ’13, Anna Oltman ’11, Madison Papp ’14, Emily Seidl ’13, Kim Trageser ’14 and Nadya Wanigasundara ’14.
“First-year students are some of the most active in the program,” says Wein, who speaks several foreign languages and is taking Arabic, Chinese and French this semester. “Many people don’t understand how large a refugee population Lancaster has. I’m really happy because this program is mutually beneficial. The special attention helps the refugees learn the language, and the F&M students are making a difference in the real world.”
Students interested in joining the program should contact the Ware Institute, which has designed several initiatives to engage students with the local refugee population.