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The Academy Spring '24 Graduation Ceremony recognized first group of graduates (11 total) to complete all six levels of English as a Second Language (ESL) courses.

Ceremony recognizes first group of graduates (11 total) to complete all six levels of English as a Second Language (ESL) courses 

The Storehouse Community Center hosted a historic graduation ceremony on May 18, in the sanctuary of St. Andrew Methodist Church, with special recognition of the first graduates of all six levels of The Academy’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program. These 11 graduates are part of a group of 148 ESL students who received certificates for the completion of an ESL class level. In addition, nine Academy students received their Modern Automotive Service and Repair certificates for completing a six-week course held in partnership with Collin College.

“Today is a historic day for The Academy as we recognize 11 students who have completed their ESL journeys, graduating from all six levels of the program,” said Ligia Urrego, director of The Academy. “Many began their studies with The Academy when it first opened in the summer of 2022. All our ESL students, many of whom work multiple jobs, have demonstrated incredible dedication, coming each Saturday morning for four hours during multiple 12-week course semesters. Today represents extraordinary effort and achievement by each Academy student, and we are so proud of them.”

Following the entrance of the graduates, with the group of 11 donning blue caps and gowns, all participated in the opening hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” led by soloist Camille Skye and organist Scott Scheetz.

The Storehouse CEO Candace Winslow opened with thanksgiving, prayer, and recognition of St. Andrew for utilization of the beautiful space and encouragement of the work of The Storehouse as well as the many donors whose generosity “propels our mission.” She continued by recognizing the staff and volunteers, “the backbone of this program,” and Academy Director Ligia Urrego, “whose passionate leadership and heart for others are paramount to this program’s success.”

“To our volunteer teachers, without you we have no Academy,” added Winslow. “These volunteers give countless hours to make sure our neighbors are cared for in so many ways. Today we celebrate our neighbors and our Academy volunteers.”

Winslow also paid tribute to the late Dr. Linda K. Johnson, the president and CEO of Aspire who passed away in February. Aspire provides curriculum and support to The Academy’s ESL program.

The celebration included a video presentation of a group of the students each sharing one word, which resonated with all graduates, and remarks of what The Academy has meant to them on their journeys: family, wonder, love, affection, hope, and support. Through The Academy, students gain valuable experiences, friendships, and community at The Storehouse.

Following the presentation of certificates, volunteer teacher Jim Hess charged the graduates with words of encouragement.

“This last semester was my fourth time teaching, and I have never done anything more rewarding,” said Jim Hess. “Your dedication, commitment, and smiles every Saturday are so inspiring and make each volunteer excited to teach you. You have faced so many challenges beginning with leaving your home countries to provide a better life for your families. Living in Texas you could have gotten by without learning English, but you faced the challenge and are to be congratulated. We have accomplished so much, including improving your pronunciation, expanding your vocabulary, and mastering challenging English grammar rules, and we could not be prouder of you.”

Hess encouraged the students to “use it or lose it” and practice their English. “Pick a favorite movie, turn on subtitles and watch it over and over, take an easy course at Collin College in English, keep a journal in English and write a couple of sentences each night. Be proud of your accomplishments and come back and help us teach more students!”

Mario Lisena, one of the 11 graduates of all ESL levels and an employee of Storehouse job partner Hilti, where he has worked in the apprentice program since February, provided remarks on behalf of the students. A few highlights are below.

“Today we completed our goal. But the journey is not over. It was a long journey that for some began in May 2022,” said Lisena. “Everything in life requires effort. You cannot wait for God to do all the work, but each person must take on effort to obtain what they are wanting for. Knowledge will become our hope to survive and adapt in this country. Without it we are nothing, and we cannot be a part of the equation. As the Chinese proverb says, ‘Give me a fish, and we will eat today. Teach me how to fish, and we will eat the rest of our lives.’”

When Lisena was a child, his father took him on walks where they observed people manually sweeping the streets and cleaning up waste.

“My father told me that without studies, this would be my job and destiny,” continued Lisena. “This reminder always motivated me to complete my university studies and professional goals. But when I first came to this country, I had to carry out this same type of work against my father’s teachings. But we must always take advantage of opportunities that lie before us and not sit idly by. Maybe we should understand that God sends us to that place to serve. If He sees we are inactive, He will have no reason to use us and enhance our abilities. This motivated me to take the opportunities that The Storehouse offered me, thus managing to obtain a more relevant position. I invite you to follow this path. Thank you, Storehouse and job partners, Lux Ice and Hilti.”

Following special music, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” by Skye and Scheetz, Storehouse board member and longtime volunteer teacher William Urrego directed the students to place their tassels on the left, “where your heart is, and remember your time here” and encouraged them to keep in touch with their Storehouse family as they begin this new chapter in their lives.

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The Storehouse Community Center (formerly The Storehouse of Collin County), is a nonprofit founded in 2009 that provides short-term help and long-term transformation to residents in North Texas through a pathway of programs. Seven Loaves Food Pantry serves around 5,000 families each month; Joseph’s Coat Clothing Closet provides clothing at no cost; Project Hope Neighbor Care offers case management and resource referral; and The Academy Education Program provides free and reduced-cost classes to assist with language, job, and life skills development. During its previous fiscal year, The Storehouse served 149,064 unduplicated neighbors with the support of more than 2,000 volunteers. In August 2023, the North Texas Food Bank honored The Storehouse with the Hope for Tomorrow Award, and in September 2023, The Storehouse was named a Dallas Morning News Charity. Visit www.thestorehousecc.org. The Storehouse EIN: 27-1883333

 PHOTOS BY KIM LEESON

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