Photo Credit: courtesy of ALCES
Adela Rosales and her daughter celebrate receiving her GED with help from ALCES.
In 2010, the Athens Latino Center for Education and Services opened its doors with the mission of serving an underserved community. From language courses to GED classes, ALCES seeks to meet the needs of the Latino community in Athens.
“Essentially what we are trying to do is help the underserved Latino population and help them establish themselves, put down roots, build better lives and become a better integrated part of the community,” ALCES Executive Director Susan Wilson says.
For years, ALCES has striven to accomplish this goal through a myriad of services. According to the nonprofit’s website, it offers a variety of adult education classes, including English as a second language, Spanish language, GED preparation in Spanish and English and citizenship classes, as well as help with applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, bilingual counseling and translation and interpretation services.
The courses are offered for a $50 monthly fee and are typically small in size.
“This is to help fulfill our ultimate vision of a community with a thriving cultural and economic life where everybody, regardless of their age or background or economic status, can value and teach and learn from each other,” Wilson says.
For Adela Rosales, ALCES has provided her with the chance to continue her education.
“Since I was young I've wanted to continue my studies, but I didn't have the money to do so in Mexico,” Rosales says. ”I heard the teacher teach with such passion that my desire to study reawakened. She inspired me to study.”
Rosales took four GED preparation courses at ALCES and was able to graduate this year. Now Rosales takes classes at ALCES to improve her English. Her experience with the center has been transformative.
“There are people here that say, ‘I can't study anymore.’ But then people realize that they actually can, and that they have the opportunity to do so,” Rosales says. “For example, some say that we can't study anymore because we don't speak English. It's only when they realize that there are classes in Spanish that they get excited to study.”
In addition to English classes, ALCES also offers courses to those who want to learn Spanish. Beverly and David Shivar, who plan to move to Nicaragua in July, have used ALCES to build up their knowledge of the language from square one.
“We come twice a week for basically three hours. It’s been a great place for me to learn language and culture,” David Shivar says. “The folks here have just been very professional and helped us to reach our goals. Our class is very structured, but sensitive to the things that we need. It’s been very instrumental.”
Despite the positive student reviews, ALCES is facing financial hardship that may force it to close its doors by the end of this year. In an attempt to combat this, ALCES is accepting donations at bit.ly/savealces and has several upcoming fundraisers. Menchie's Frozen Yogurt at the Beechwood shopping center had a percentage night last month to benefit ALCES. The Five Points location of Barberitos will donate a percentage of profits July 20, and the downtown Ben & Jerry’s will do the same Aug. 11. At press time, the group's IndieGoGo account had only reached 2 percent of its $36,000 goal.
ALCES also is looking for volunteers to help provide its services.
“There are dozens of ways to help,” Wilson says. “Almost anything someone’s interested in doing, from teaching to childcare to administration, is something that we would be able to use a volunteer in.”
Wilson hopes to overcome the financial shortfalls to continue serving the Latino community in Athens.
“The students that are coming here are extremely driven. We have people who have to work around their work schedule, and they do it,” Wilson says. “They’re here, some of them, at nine o’clock on a Sunday morning. Others are coming in for English classes after working since six or seven in the morning. We’ve got some really driven folks, and those are the folks that we want to help.”
For ALCES board member Alejandra Calva, the services ALCES provides help to fulfill a serious need in Athens’ Latino community.
“I really notice how much need there is in the community. Even for us it’s hard getting your cable installed, getting your prescription, and we speak perfectly good English. Our barriers are so limited, whereas for this community it’s really hard to find someone who speaks spanish at the pharmacy, for example,” Calva says. “That’s part of ALCES’ mission. It’s really about educating the larger community about the needs of [the Latino] community. It would be a very sad day if we had to close.”