The English Language Learning (ELL) classroom is the perfect place to personally connect with local internationals by teaching English, building relationships, instilling confidence and independence, and ultimately pointing them to Jesus. Two Knox County ELL programs have facilitated incredible friendships, impacting lives on a deeper level along the way. They began with different target groups, but have the same beautiful story of network collaboration!
by Bobbie McClain
Another program made stronger through collaboration has been Village Church ELL. It began in 2014 when Cindy Hood, with a heart for international families in the Norwood community, ran a summer English camp at Tillery Ridge apartments for Iraqis new to that area, and then her family personally moved into the neighborhood!
Seeing a need that these mothers had for their preschool children, families involved with camp were invited to a “Kindergarten Readiness Program” held in Norwood Elementary cafeteria. Courageous volunteers separated children from their moms by coaxing the little ones to participate in blanket activities stationed around the room: books, toys, snacks, singing and forming water fountain lines. Meanwhile, the moms on the other side of the cafeteria were learning lessons of their own. One delighted teacher “watched the confidence of these moms blossom as they walked into school each week and even talked to school staff about issues with their older children.”
Wallace Memorial Baptist Church heard about the program in 2017 and began inviting the class to a monthly craft brunch and Bible story, picking up students in their minibus from Norwood Elementary and driving them to and from craft time. They also hosted a graduation program at the end of the year, even handing out graduation certificates. Relationships were going deeper between the volunteers and the moms and encouraging, cross-cultural friendships were forming between the moms themselves.
In 2021, the program moved out of the school to nearby Village Church to allow for more flexible meeting times and space, meeting for 1 hour of ELL instruction and then 1 hour of craft time. This led to the creation of Norwood Makers Market, now held monthly at Village Church on the first Saturday of most months. Cindy shares, “The NMM mission is to give international vendors a place to sell handmade or homemade items and find a mentor to help them grow their trade into a business”. Since its inception, one student has been connected to opportunities to sew for local businesses. Though she already possessed tremendous skills developed in her home country, the ELL class offered connection to a network and gave her enough confidence in her English to start an LLC!
Click here to check out Norwood Makers Market on Facebook and stop by some Saturday to experience it for yourself.
May these stories encourage you: if you are part of an existing ELL program and feel discouraged with low participation or doubts about making an impact, God can use every relationship and opportunity for His glory. If you’re considering starting a program, or volunteering in an existing classroom, you may think this is too big of a task for you to take on. Remember these stories, programs, and volunteers who felt just like that at one point. But they took the first step of faith - and God did the rest through His faithfulness.
Read the stories of Knoxville's local internationals and the volunteers who have impacted their lives. Get a first-hand view of what it's like to move here and/or to serve those who've moved here from other countries. Discover how KIN has impacted life and culture in metro Knoxville.