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Wednesday, November 29, 2017


Dunya Hecht: An Esteemed Coalition Leader

Dunya Hecht

Program Manager and ESOL Instructor at the Rockville Senior Center

In the 10-plus years that Dunya worked at the Rockville Senior Center, she made tremendous contributions to the Center’s English Program and as part of the MCAEL provider network. When Dunya first walked into the Rockville Senior Center as a volunteer she had recently served on the City of Rockville’s Senior Services Long Range Planning Task Force. With a background and master’s in gerontology, she was looking for an opportunity to further contribute to her community. Little did she know that she would become the ESOL Program Manager. 

Upon starting at the Senior Center, Dunya was asked to teach ESOL classes to interested seniors. Dunya took on this new challenge and soon realized that she could help bring structure to the previously loosely organized English classes. She contacted publishers to bring in new materials for students and, most importantly, worked to ensure that learners were in classes according to English proficiency levels and Best Practices standards. From 2008 to 2017, Dunya played a key role in securing MCAEL grants to professionalize and firmly establish the ESOL program at the Senior Center.

Transitioning into the role of Program Coordinator, and later Program Manager, Dunya was instrumental in establishing a structured and cohesive program for the Center population. Dunya worked closely with MCAEL and Montgomery College consultants, and networked with other adult ESOL providers in the MCAEL network to expand existing classes and bring in innovative teaching methods, having identified a desire for more practice time among students.

Understanding the needs of this senior population also influenced the focus and approach of this program, which is unique to senior centers in Montgomery County, as Rockville is the only one offering regular instructional classes and a formal English program directed towards older immigrants of all backgrounds.

For seniors, many of whom had come to the United States in later life and were not primarily seeking employment, it was an opportunity to help them avoid isolation and depression, by providing a tool to promote friendships, social engagement and community.”

With her intimate knowledge of the specific needs of the senior population, and the diversity of those needs cross-culturally, Dunya established herself as an advocate for this population within the MCAEL provider network.

“I feel that even within the MCAEL community, I’m really proud to have represented this diverse senior adult population, because there aren’t many places where it really all comes together in this county.”

During her tenure at the Senior Center, Dunya saw the ESOL program have a significant impact on the seniors who attended classes. At least 300-400 unique individuals. Many went on to prepare for U.S. citizenship. All the students became more confident in their ability to speak English, some even speaking at Dunya’s retirement party. These learners have built friendships, shared cultural practices, and engaged in Senior Center social events more frequently.

“I’m glad to have done something that was appreciated. We put something in place that might have some sustainability…. I’m really proud to have done that.” 

"Literacy is a human right. In Montgomery County, literacy leads to community members who are self-sufficient and able to give back to the County."
Sissy Kegley
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