Grad talks up value of Waukegan library’s Spanish GED program

Post date: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - 2:40pm
Yadira Sanchez Olson
For Sun-Times Media | ysanchezolson [at] stmedianetwork [dot] com

July 21 11:16 a.m.

As a chemical engineer in Mexico, Pedro Gomez had only one barrier that was keeping him from moving up in the field.

He didn’t speak English.

English is the universal language, he thought, so “where better to learn it than in the United States,” Gomez said.

With that in mind, he made a trip last year, from his native land of Michoacán — a western state in Mexico — to Waukegan, where a casual visit to the Waukegan Public Library has taken him in an unexpected path.

“I found him wandering in the halls and asked him how I could help,” said Carmen Patlan, the library community engagement and Spanish literacy services manager.

Gomez needed English classes, which the library provides with its Conversation ESL (English as a Second Language) Program, in which role play and visual tools are used to teach English to Spanish speakers.

But Patlan thought Gomez could take his learning a step further, so she invited him to also join the Spanish GED program.

The new program preps students for the GED exam at the College of Lake County through instruction in math, reading and writing in Spanish.

In May, 35 students earned their GED diploma, becoming the first class of graduates of the program.

And 45 more students are currently enrolled and on their way to becoming next year’s graduates.

For Gomez, it took less than two months to prep and pass the GED exam. He also was able to secure financial aid that has helped him further his English education.

For everything, Gomez said he’s thankful he bumped into Patlan and that he took her up on the invitation.

To show his appreciation, he’s now volunteering his time as an instructor for the library’s Spanish GED class.

“Gomez is a wonderful teacher because the students can relate to him and his story,” Patlan said.

She added that it’s not just about teaching the material; it’s also about a community moving forward as a whole.

“Conversation ESL is really the port of entry,” Patlan said. “Once they’re in the program, we figure out what else they need and if it meets our vision then that’s something we try to provide.”

Students in the ESL classes don’t just want to learn English, Patlan said; they want to learn English as a stepping stone toward better jobs or to move up in their careers.

With his GED certificate and the ability to speak English, Gomez is getting ready to go back home at the end of the year to keep at his career goal in Mexico.

Soon, he’ll say goodbye to his volunteer teaching job at the library and to the friends he’s made there.

For him, the slight turn that his life took making him bilingual, a GED graduate, and an instructor has been incredible, he said.

“It’s been exciting. I’ve most enjoyed seeing people make a connection; a click in their eyes that tells me I’ve taught them something new that they can apply in their life,” Gomez said.

Patlan said that’s also what she enjoys most of her job at the library.

“We aim to help people break barriers and succeed,” Patlan said.

Health literacy classes aim to help Spanish-speaking families

Post date: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 11:51am
Yadira Sanchez Olson
For Sun-Times Media | ysanchezolson [at] stmedianetwork [dot] com

July 15 12:54 p.m.

Alicia Benitez of Waukegan recently learned a trick that helps her alleviate the pain caused by arthritis and having to use her hands all day working at a dry-cleaning business.

“For bone and joint pain, you soak your feet and hands in cold water to get rid of the inflammation and then warm water to relax them,” Benitez said of her new daily routine to address body aches.

Each week, Benitez attends workshops at the Waukegan Public Library, where along with other Spanish speakers, she learns tips for healthy living and preventative care.

“It’s an opportunity to connect the Latino community with outside resources,” the library’s Tatiana Alonso said.

Through professional presentations, led by doctors, nurses and therapists, participants in the Functional Health Literacy classes are introduced to wholesome ways of living that can be put into practice at home and with the family.

Since beginning about one year ago, the classes have touched on cardiovascular disease, cholesterol, arthritis and nutrition. A grant from the Healthcare Foundation of Northern Lake County and the Alliance for Human Services has helped the program grow in size and reach.

Nabr Cruz found out about the classes while he was getting homework help for his 10-year-old son in the library’s children’s department. Now he tries to attend each class, he said.

“The information you learn here is just invaluable,” Cruz said. “It’s always worth the trip.”

The group of mostly parents is sometimes as big as a dozen or as small as six. Kids are welcome and are kept occupied with crafts and programs in the children’s center. Each hour-long class addresses a new topic.

The Functional Health Literacy classes have proved to improve the lives of Latino parents, Alonso said. Because the information is being shared in their native language, “they’re more comfortable asking questions and they don’t leave here feeling confused,” she said.

She also highlighted that the speakers understand the participants’ culture.

“Many Latino parents don’t understand the medical system here,” Alonso said.

Participants learn what situations might require a trip to the emergency room versus a regular doctor visit. Other lessons have been about reading prescription bottles and what English words to remember when seeing a doctor.

“We’re changing the way literacy is being looked at and adding the health component,” Alonso said.

Specific subject matters have also been requested by participants.

In a recent class on sexually transmitted infections and AIDS, Alonso said teens were invited to come with their parents.

“That was really interesting. The mothers and fathers learned so much from it and with their kids next to them they were able to open the door for those type of discussions,” Alonso said. “It’s not easy for the Latino community to talk about that topic.”

The Functional Health Literacy classes are held at 6 p.m. most Mondays on the lower level of the library. It is a drop-in program that’s open for all residents in Lake County.

The next class, about chiropractic and acupuncture health, is scheduled for July 21.


The Lake County Community Foundation’s 2014 Grant Recipients announced

Post date: Thursday, July 3, 2014 - 3:45pm

Waukegan, IL-June 26, 2014 - The Lake County Community Foundation, an affiliate of The Chicago Community Trust, announced $153,000 in grants to local nonprofit organizations serving the urgent needs of the most vulnerable individuals and families in the county.

The following grant recipients have demonstrated exceptional commitment to making Lake County a better place to live, work and raise a family in the areas designated to have the most impact on the county’s current needs.

2014 Grant Recipients:

A Safe Place ($25,000 category: Efficient Governance - Pursue Coordinated Investments)
Beacon Place ($5,000 category: Human Capital - Capacity Building)
Hanul Family Alliance ($5,000 category: Human Capital - Capacity Building)
The Alliance for Human Services ($75,000 category: Human Capital - Sustain the Health and Human Services System)
Waukegan Park District ($2,000 category: Human Capital -Sustain the Health and Human Services System)
Waukegan Public Library ($20,000 category: Human Capital - Improve Education and Workforce Training)
UChicago Impact ($10,500 category: Human Capital - Improve Education and Workforce Training)
Ounce of Prevention Fund ($10,000 category: Human Capital - Improve Education and Workforce Training)
YouthBuild Lake County ($15,000 category: Human Capital - Improve Education and Workforce Training)
Zion Benton Children’s Service ($5,000 category: Human Capital - Capacity Building)
Zion Benton Elementary District 6 ($21,000 category: Human Capital - Improve Education and Workforce Training)

Please join us in congratulating this distinguished group of community leaders by visiting their websites to learn more about how they are making a difference in Lake County. To view pictures from the event please visit us on Facebook

For nearly a decade, The Lake County Community Foundation has been on the cutting edge of addressing these issues and is proud to promote collaboration among non-profit health and human service providers in Lake County, enabling the delivery of innovative, sustainable and accessible programs to the county’s most vulnerable residents.

The next grant making cycle will begin anew in the winter of 2014, please visit for information about our funding priorities.

About The Lake County Community Foundation

The Lake County Community Foundation would like to thank Linda and Vincent Buonanno and Tempel Farms for their generous support of the 2014 Grants Reception.

Since 2003, The Lake County Community Foundation, an affiliate of The Chicago Community Trust, has partnered with donors to leverage and guide their philanthropy to help transform the lives of the most vulnerable people across our county. Together, we have contributed over $2.5 million to 80 nonprofit organizations that support basic human needs, community development, education and health throughout Lake County. By connecting the generosity of donors across Lake County with the most pressing needs of the community, we ensure that our county thrives today and for generations to come.