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Herriman Journal

New Herriman education center will help refugees and immigrants

Jan 05, 2024 10:00AM ● By Elisa Eames

Herriman volunteers meet at City Hall for a training session. (Columbus Adult Education Center)

In 1957, Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” Sonia and Jeff Henkel of Salt Lake City embodied this principle of selflessness while they served Myanmaran refugees for seven years as inner-city missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The refugees belonged to a congregation called the Columbus Branch in South Salt Lake. Recognizing that refugees from all countries need support as they learn English, find jobs and integrate into society, the Henkels founded the Columbus Adult Education Center and Youth Programs in 2016. The organization is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to help refugees and immigrants become self-reliant members of their communities by helping them develop English skills and find employment. The interfaith organization offers online options and has physical locations in Salt Lake, Ogden and now Herriman.

The Herriman campus will help meet the needs of the growing population of refugee families and other nonnative English speakers in southern Salt Lake County while also providing community service opportunities. As with Salt Lake and Ogden, all classes and services offered by the CAEC in Herriman will be absolutely free and open to teens and adults. 

“We will be offering English classes for 120 students at a time, a nursery for those parents taking the English classes, [and] a teen and youth program to help children 6-18 improve their English and become better socialized into our community,” CAEC volunteer Shandra Madsen said. 

Additionally, the Herriman location will provide continuing education classes for those who graduate from the English program along with citizenship classes. 

“There will also be weekly classes to help refugees in our area with seemingly simple tasks (how to cross streets safely, buckling car seats, how to set up a business license, etc.),” Madsen added. 

Each quarter, CAEC will organize service projects to give students and community members opportunities to get involved. Herriman students may also take advantage of employment assistance. A volunteer will help match them with potential employers and opportunities in the area. Coordinators anticipate welcoming people from adjacent cities as well and will provide monthly community education classes for anyone. These classes will cover a variety of subjects, such as budgeting and finances.

The group’s plans are impressive under any circumstances, but even more so considering that the centers are run completely by volunteers. 

“Not a single person in this entire organization is paid a penny,” Madsen revealed—including the board of directors. For the Herriman Campus to get off the ground, the center will need over 100 volunteers. 

“We need anyone and everyone willing to give of their time to this amazing cause,” Madsen said enthusiastically. One resident who has committed to serve is Herriman’s own Mayor Lorin Palmer, who will be the liaison with the city, helping to coordinate efforts and providing information about the needs within the Herriman community. The center will not use any city resources. Though some community members have already stepped forward to help, many more are required for the center to be operational.

Among the volunteers needed are translators who will help non-English speaking students with the registration process, which must be done in person. “…We will need translators to sit with the incoming students and help them through this process on a computer,” Madsen explained. “We have students registered so far that speak Pashto, Portuguese, Spanish, Vietnamese and many others. If you speak a language other than English, we would love to have you volunteer!” 

Opportunities are available for as much or as little time as volunteers have. “Every bit helps,” Madsen said. Coordinators are also collecting nursery books, toys, snacks, school supplies, cleaning supplies, disinfecting wipes, diapers and baby wipes for the center.

Administrators hope to begin courses Jan. 30 with two morning classes and two evening classes each week. Because they can only serve 120 students at a time, Madsen ruefully acknowledged they expect to have a waiting list. 

“With the thousands of people in our community who could benefit from this service, we know there will be hundreds waiting for an open spot. We will help people as quickly as we can,” she said.

With the aid of software, the center will use registration information to determine student proficiency for placement within the program. 

“There are five levels of English classes with the lowest being the student is illiterate in their own language, up to nearly fluent [English] speakers who are ready to graduate and move on to higher education,” clarified Madsen. How quickly students complete the program will depend on their abilities, motivation and current English proficiency.

Zoom classes will not be available from the Herriman location, but the Salt Lake City Center currently offers them. “Anyone can access those classes if they go through the Columbus website and register. They have people from all over the world that log in to their Zoom classes each week,” Madsen said.

“The best way to find yourself,” Mahatma Gandhi declared, “is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Echoing his words, Madsen asserted, “This will be a program and community center that will benefit those who are attending as well as those who are serving.”

Details about the location of the center within Herriman were being finalized at the time of publication. Visit columbusaec.org/herriman-campus/ for location information, or visit columbusaec.org/ for general information, including details for volunteers and prospective students. CAEC is working to create a website in Spanish. For any questions or to volunteer or donate items, email Shandra Madsen at [email protected]. λ

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