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The Academy Graduation Spring 2023 Andres Tovar celebrates as he walks across the stage.

The Academy Education Program, which launched in 2022 at The Storehouse of Collin County, offers language skills, job skills, and life skills training, is one the first steps in helping the neighbors on their journeys to transformative change. On Saturday, June 3, staff, board members, donors, and mission partners came together for the Academy’s third graduation ceremony, recognizing 118 students who completed the 12-week English as a Second Language (ESL) course. Since The Academy launched last June, the language program has grown from 40 students in the summer, to 90 students in the fall, to 118 in the spring.

“Many of our neighbors have college degrees or higher but struggle to contribute to the workforce due to the language barrier, which is a significant deterrent to long-term transformation,” said Candace Winslow, CEO, The Storehouse. “This type of growth illustrates the desire of this largely immigrant population to seek transformative change, and we are so proud of all of these outstanding neighbors who have shown perseverance and dedication, attending class every Saturday for 12 weeks and also studying at home while working to support their families.”

Kicking off The Academy’s third graduation ceremony, Director of The Academy Ligia Urrego shared her joy in watching the graduates attend class faithfully and practice their speaking and writing skills. She encouraged them to continue to work hard and grow their skills to build a better life and brighter future.

“One of my favorite moments of this semester was on the first day of class,” said Urrego. “That morning I was providing instructions in each classroom level. At my final stop, I walked into the highest level of our ESL classes, where I gave all my instructions in English, and all the students responded in English. I stopped and realized we only spoke in English, which is the goal of this program. This represents growth and transformation!”

This semester The Academy also offered life skills classes including blood pressure prevention and management; job skills training with Microsoft Word and Excel classes, Forklift and Workplace Safety certifications; and a new six-week Automotive Repair Certification course in partnership with Collin College Continuing Education. Six neighbors were honored at the graduation for completing this course.

Students Andrea Flores and Daynier Marzo provided remarks on behalf of the students and thanked the volunteer teachers. Flores is from Venezuela and just completed her second semester. She is the mother of three children. Marzo, who is from Cuba, has overcome many challenges to fulfill his dream of building a better life in the United States. He just completed his first semester and recently married.

“In addition to changing our lives, you are part of our family and have made us feel valuable, safe, and one of the most important feelings for an immigrant – the sense of belonging,” said Andrea Flores. “When you leave your country, you lose it, and it’s hard to get that feeling back in a new country. The Academy has given it back to us every Saturday with support and encouragement. It has changed my life and my family, too. I will carry with me through time what The Academy means to us.”

Daynier Marzo began his remarks by saying that this was his first speech. He shared how much all the teachers at The Academy meant to him.

“They teach you not only English,” shared Marzo. “They teach you to be better. I always wanted to feel useful, and they showed me how to do it with love in every word they say. I will never forget the first time I went to pick up food with them. They gave me more than that – they gave me blessings and knowledge. They support everybody unconditionally and passionately. Everyone has a definite time in life and a role in the story of another. The Academy team arrived in my life as the peace in the storm. Someday I won’t be studying English on Saturday, but I will be feeling that love forever.”

Denny Mosseller, a retired Southwest pilot and instructor who has been teaching ESL since the pilot program, shared his experience as an ESL Teacher and how his students' efforts inspire him to continue volunteering in The Academy every Saturday morning.

“When all the volunteer teachers began one year ago, we didn’t realize the incredible journey we would embark on,” said Mosseller. “We knew the challenges but didn’t know we were about to engage with equally passionate, determined neighbors committed to building a life in the U.S. This only fueled our desire to make it happen. It has been so rewarding to see their progress and is a privilege to help them meet their goals.”

During the ceremony attendees enjoyed a rendition of “When You Believe” performed by Camille Skye in English and Spanish alongside a presentation featuring the history of The Storehouse and launch of The Academy.

After the awarding of certificates to the students, the 19 ESL teachers were recognized for their contributions to the program. Representatives from St. Andrew Methodist Church's Grace Connection Group were given special recognition for providing the ESL students with weekly snack packs throughout the semester. The group received a thank you card signed by all the ESL students.

The Storehouse also honored Omar Valdez with Aspire, the nonprofit partner which provides the curriculum for The Academy’s language program. Valdez closed the program with words of encouragement for the students, reminding them to spend some time each day with their workbooks over the summer.

“English learning is about progress, not perfection,” said Valdez. “Continue to work a little every day and remember we are all here to help you.”

For more information on The Academy and volunteer opportunities, visit https://www.thestorehousecc.org/academy

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The Storehouse of Collin County provides short-term assistance and long-term transformation to residents of Collin County in need through the Seven Loaves Food Pantry, Joseph’s Coat Clothing Closet, Project Hope Neighbor Care, and The Academy Education Program. The nonprofit was founded in 2009 by St. Andrew Methodist Church under the name of Seven Loaves Community, which provided food pantry staples and grew over the years to meet a variety of needs. Over 5,000 families on average access Seven Loaves each month. The Storehouse provides clothing at no cost through Joseph’s Coat as well as case management through Project Hope. The Academy provides free and reduced-cost classes to assist with language, job, or life skills development. Visit www.thestorehousecc.org. The Storehouse EIN: 27-1883333

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