Cleveland ministry spins off new program for immigrant parents

CLEVELAND, TENN. – IGOR HAS LEARNING difficulties but, like his siblings, he speaks English well. Not so for his mother Nadia, a Ukrainian immigrant: "She's very dependent on her children to communicate for her," says Mary Ketchersid, Unity Center program director. Ketchersid noticed the same thing of other immigrant parents whose children were enrolled in the after-school program: "They were not able to carry on a simple conversation."

Out of concern for those parents, Mary and her co-program director/husband, David Ketchersid, began a new ministry. Unity Center's English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program provides free language training for parents of the after-school kids as well as other community members who want to improve their English skills.

The program was one of 31 new ministries in the denomination receiving $5,000 grants this year from the national Bishops' Initiative on Children and Poverty Task Force. Other Holston churches receiving national grants included Jellico in Oak Ridge District, Mosheim Central in Morristown District, and Saint Luke in Chattanooga District.

The grant was used to buy software programs used by students and volunteer tutors on eight computers in the Unity Center lab. This spring and summer, 15 children and adults from the Ukraine, Mexico, Chile, Peru and China participated in the first classes.

"We hope to have 20 on a regular basis this fall," said Ketchersid. Anne Travis, Holston Conference director of connectional ministries, said Unity Center is a "very exciting place to see."

"The ministry of the Unity Center is greatly expanded by this addition to the programming for the adults," she said. "I congratulate the Unity Center on the vision and the initiative they took to expand their ministry in this important way."

The program is what you might call an "outreach of an outreach," since Unity Center itself is only three years old. Housed in the former Unity United Methodist Church building, the after-school program served about 45 elementary and middle-school students for three days a week in the last school year.

Several other ESOL classes exist in the area, but Unity Center's program is unique because it is free to participants and flexible to accommodate their work hours.

"We have one Chinese family who owns a restaurant and can only come to class in the morning," says Ketchersid. The classes also provide opportunity for parents to learn with their children as they participate in the existing after-school ministry.

Unity Center's student population is diverse. Immigrant families initially drawn to the carpet industries of Dalton, Ga., later cross the state line to work in Cleveland, Tenn., 30 miles away. U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that Cleveland's Hispanic population grew 100 percent between 1999 and 2000. There are more than 30 other ethnic groups residing in the area, including a large Ukrainian community.

While the median annual household income for Bradley County immigrant parents families in Bradley County is $34,000, the median income for families in the Unity Center's East Cleveland neighborhood is $16,000, according to the local Chamber of Commerce.

It's the kids from these families that Unity Center exists for, said Ketchersid. "There are a lot of sad stories here. They all have their own issues."

About 40 volunteers from Broad Street, First Cleveland UMC, Wesley Memorial UMC and nearby schools help tutor, provide and care for the children and ESOL students.

This is the first in a four-part series about Holston churches receiving Bishops' Initiative on Children and Poverty grants.


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