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Organization Spotlight: Ethiopian Community Center (ECC), Inc.

3 years 4 months 2 weeks 6 days ago

The Ethiopian Community Center (ECC) has been providing English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) for African immigrants for over a decade. As an established organization which has been in existence for close to 40 years, the ECC is in a strong position to help us understand their community. As a grantee for fiscal year 2019 – we asked the ECC to help us share their story:

Can you describe your history and how your organization came to be?
An estimated 350,000 Ethiopians have made the DMV area their home. Prior to 1980 many Ethiopians came as students, diplomats and visitors. Due to military conflicts in the late 1970’s Ethiopian migration to the DMV area increased. The DMV saw a large influx of Ethiopians affected by displacement coming as refugees and political asylees. Established in 1980, The Ethiopian Community Center was created to address the single and important issue of settlement and adaptation. The main objective was to help the new arrivals settle and make a smooth transition into the community. 

As an established organization in the African community, can you describe the Ethiopian community?
Today Montgomery County is home to one of the largest African-born populations in the US, second to Bronx County in NY. Ethiopians represent the fourth largest foreign-born population in MC, and the top country of origin for African immigrants. While desegregated county-level data specific to the African or Ethiopian population is unavailable, regional trends show high rates of limited English proficiency among Ethiopians. Up to 53% of Amharic speakers are limited English proficient, and a large number of households are linguistically isolated with no English-speaking adult in the household. Given this population’s strong desire and need to learn English, ECC's ESOL program offers a doorway to participating more fully in community life, and an opportunity to achieving greater educational and economic success. 

African immigrants make pivotal contributions to the county's economy; however, they are disproportionately concentrated in low-wage jobs, largely due to cultural and linguistic barriers. Learning English is the first step to eliminating barriers and ensuring that this population can make an even greater contribution to the county's economy. 

A coalition member:
The ECC has been in the MCAEL network for many years. In FY19, as part of MCAEL’s Grant Program in partnership with Montgomery County Government, the ECC was awarded $22,650 to support their African Immigrant Vocational ESOL Program. The ECC, in partnership with the Community Preservation and Development Corporation (CPDC) an affiliate of Enterprise Homes, offers three levels of vocational English literacy classes to African immigrant residents who live in Takoma Park’s Maple Ave corridor. The objective of the program is to equip immigrants in low wage and low skill jobs with employment-related English language skills that will allow them to successfully access educational and workforce development opportunities. 

A recent success story:
Most recently the ECC toured Montgomery College’s Takoma Park Campus and Workforce Development & Continuing Education Department. Representatives from Health Sciences, Early Childhood, and the office of Community Engagement gave a presentation on non-credit and credit programs, licensing programs, and the college’s Career Pathways Scholarship. As a result, ECC were able to assist 4 ESL students in applying for the Clinical Medical Assistance Program, of which 3 students were awarded $2000 funds through the Career Pathways Scholarship in December 2018.

The ECC today:
Thanks to the collective support of staff, volunteers, private and government agencies, the Center has expanded its services and diversified its funding base. Over the years, it has grown to become a multi-service agency serving not only Ethiopians but other immigrants. Thousands of people have benefited from the Center’s ESOL and computer programs, immigration counseling and referrals, translation and interpretation services, health, career and employment counseling and other support services. As one of the dominant immigrant tax contributors in the area, Ethiopians have established businesses, restaurants, churches, and introduced their unique culture to the American community.  

MCAEL partnerships with organizations like the ECC helps equip immigrant residents with the language skills necessary to build strong communities and workforces.

To learn more about ECC, please visit their website

Interview by Halima Ahmed

Community Partnerships

3 years 5 months 6 days 19 hours ago


Collaboration and connection between organizations and agencies that serve residents helps increase access to English classes that our immigrant neighbors want and need. Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) is a key partner to MCAEL. We want to thank the Board of Education for hearing testimony from MCAEL last month.

Public schools are a hub not only for educating our young residents – schools have opened their doors to host English classes for parents as well. Programs like Casa's Life Skills program or Linkages to Learning's Adult English Literacy program for parents, host rigorous evening programs for adults. Immigrant families are setting goals and are going back to school together.

Programs like these are key to success for kids and adults. Quality instruction leads to educational outcomes for adults just as it does for children. One of the key indicators of a child’s success in school is their parents’ (in particular mother’s) literacy.

Some of MCAEL’s current work vis-à-vis the schools:

  • Funding for programs that are focused on MCPS parents through programs like Linkages to Learning Adult ESOL classes and George B. Thomas Saturday School classes.
  • Many MCAEL funded programs such as the Literacy Council of Montgomery County and CASA reserve space for evening classes at MCPS high schools.
  • MCPS ESOL teachers attend MCAEL Professional Development Institute workshops and trainings, as well as use the Provider Directory to refer parents to classes. 

Looking ahead to our continued work together:
MCAEL has a new strategic plan ( which includes a goal to increase the number of adults served each year from 15,000 to 21,000 by 2021. We are working to increase access points to meet adults’ needs, such as opportunities to bring classes to working adults at their places of employment and to support our youngest community members through early care workers and their parents.

Our data shows that women outnumber men in MCAEL classes by about 2:1. The average age of women in these classes is 38.  If we were to match that with MCPS data, it stands to reason that many of the women in MCAEL classes have school age children.  Our mutual goals and successes are tied together.

MCAEL is often contacted by PTA presidents and other parents and teachers with inquiries about starting classes for parents at schools. We look forward to continued work with MCPS to identify areas of need and connect MCAEL programs with those schools in need.

A More Learning Perspective from a MCAEL insider:

3 years 8 months 1 day 20 hours ago

Monica Casañas of MCAEL with an English Innovations class of High Beginner Learners

At MCAEL we often describe our More Learning Less Teaching workshop as an intensive two-day master’s program for new instructors. It’s a short way to describe the value of the training. I’d like to share what I got out of it.

I had fallen into the trap, the I know English therefore I can teach English trap. As a little girl I would try and teach my grandparents how to speak English. As my English skills excelled I would correct my mother’s accent and her grammar in letters she’d write at work or letters to my school. Decades later this was a motivating factor in taking a position with MCAEL. I never wanted anyone to have to go through what my Grandparents and family did – not being able to communicate with doctors, missed opportunities and disconnectedness from the larger community.

When I was invited to teach an ESOL class I jumped at the opportunity. I wanted to see what it was like to formally teach. I thought teaching would help me gain perspective on my new position at MCAEL and I wanted to help people. Had I ever taught or had experience teaching? I taught people about their rights as tenants (harking back to my days as a tenant organizer) but had I taught English – no. In my mind I thought – I know English, I learned English in school, I use it every day, I think I can do this.

With dwindling attendance numbers during the first session of my ESOL class I knew I needed to make a change. I attended More Learning Less Teaching and realized I needed training and education to teach ESOL to adults. My eyes were opened. 

Basics like scaffolding, recall and ice-breakers rocked my teaching world! I felt embarrassed to have minimized how enormous the task at hand was. Granted, not everyone has a TESOL degree, nor do you necessarily need this to be a good ESOL teacher. You do however need a good foundation to grow from. I was thankful  to get this crash course through MCAEL's More Learning program.  Following the course, my handbook and other classroom realia received much wear and tear. I met others like myself whose intentions were good but like me lacked ESOL training. It made me realize the role this training has in our community. MCAEL as a convener provides this very crucial puzzle piece – professional support and development to organizations and people who want to help immigrants acquire language skills through quality instruction. The More Learning training introduces new instructors to the foundations of ESOL and supports student learning through instructor professional development – free of charge, a huge benefit to local organizations, ESOL teachers and students.

Connecting and Supporting ESOL Professionals

3 years 8 months 1 day 20 hours ago

Debi Edick of Linkages to Learning and Cecilia Rojas of Community Ministries of Rockville (CMR) not only have a great friendship but continue to support each other professionally as pictured here at CMR's open house in September. 

One of MCAEL's primary roles is to connect providers with experts by offering professional development, workshops and networking opportunities. The true marker of coalition building is when providers form close connections with one another. This facilitates their ability to refer clients when necessary with the assurance that members of the MCAEL coalition are trusted and up to the task.

Instrumental in building connections, MCAEL has enabled providers to collaborate on unique learning and professional development opportunities. Debi and Cecilia are a good example of that as explained by Debi: 

“Through MCAEL we participated in a peer review project where you would meet with another organization and receive feedback. The [second] year, I did my peer review with Cecilia [Rojas] and it was fabulous. She observed one of my classes, I observed one of her classes. We just formed a connection and a friendship. One day, after talking about budgets and how we liked to offer professional development to our instructors, we decided to join forces and coordinate a workshop for our instructors as a joint effort. By splitting the costs, we got more out of two full days than we could have done individually. This collaboration wouldn't have been possible without MCAEL."

Response and Persistence

3 years 8 months 1 week 20 hours ago

MCAEL is a capacity building organization and as such our work which supports the network of  classes that serve 15,000+ adult English students each year is proactive, intentional and planned to respond to data driven, broad needs in the county.

But sometimes we need to respond to an immediate need. Last week a young man knocked on our office door, and we soon learned that he spoke virtually no English.  His first language is French and he arrived from Mali two months ago. Somehow he found us and came seeking English classes while his classes at Montgomery College were on a two week break. 

Two staff members jumped into action – using their Spanish, French and a Google translate phone app identify some places he could contact to find a conversation class.  He went on his way and we crossed our fingers.  But then, a day or two later he was back.! His persistence was striking.  He spoke with another staff member (with more French fluency) and again went on his way.  While we do not know if he has had success, I am hopeful that he found an option to keep up his English studies and will be back at community college classes when they resume.
What are some of the lessons we can take from this office visit? 

  • Building a system and providing one-on-one support to individuals are both key components to ensuring success – an art and a science
  • Individual learner persistence is one of the hallmarks of moving toward fluency
  • Every employer can benefit from bi-lingual staff
  • We can choose different responses and we can persist

And, building a network of quality English programs to support our thriving community and growing workforce means nothing unless we take the time to communicate with and help each other. 

Words Matter

3 years 8 months 1 week 6 days ago
Kathy Stevens

Dear MCAEL Community:

Words matter.  That is one of the reasons we support the network of programs that teach English to adults – we know that for people to reach their goals being able to use their words is critical.  Think about how many times in a day you say something to someone, listen to another person speak, or read or write something  ---how successful would you feel if you could not communicate about basic every-day living situations.

For immigrant adults, learning English is the bedrock of how they connect with our shared community.  Improving ones’ English allows for a better job; it allows for a parent to work with their child and teachers on schoolwork, and allows them to conduct doctor’s appointments without having their children interpret for them.

Words matter.  Thanks for visiting our website and stay in touch.

Kathy Stevens
Executive Director
Montgomery Coalition for Adult English Literacy (MCAEL)


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