The Dominican Sisters of Aurora decided there was no better way to begin the 20th anniversary year of the Dominican Literacy Center than to reach out to families in need.
“Our mission is to help the immigrant communities,” Sister Kathleen Ryan said.
On Thursday, the volunteers of the Dominican Literacy Center partnered with the Aurora Area Interfaith Food Pantry to make available 10,000 pounds of nutritional food to area families from a mobile food pantry.
The food distribution was held on the campus of St. Therese Church between Farnsworth and Vermont avenues on the city’s East Side, where the Dominican Sisters rent a former parish rectory to provide immigrant women with English tutoring services.
The Dominican Literacy Center provides one-on-one tutoring lessons to women for an hour-and-a-half each week. The students can receive services for three years.
The center has 148 volunteer tutors and 170 students this year. The center also provides free citizenship classes to people studying to become U.S. citizens.
“We began as a service organization and decided to celebrate our anniversary in the same theme,” said Amy Manion, chairperson of the center’s advisory board.
Elia Barocio said she originally arrived at the steps of the center as a student and is now one of the staff secretaries. “We tell people not to give up,” Barocio said.
Ryan started the Dominican Literacy Center originally from a room at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Aurora, and since then an estimated 2,500 women interested in learning to speak and write English have benefit from the program.
“We have had a waiting list since the day I began with three students in the basement at St. Nicholas Church,” Ryan said.
“Young mothers can help their children with their school homework and some of them go on to earn their GED (General Education Degree) and pursue better jobs,” Ryan said.
She said the languages students have spoken have included Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Polish and Ukrainian. The Dominican Sisters of Springfield founded Rosary High School in Aurora.
Ryan said she continues to work with students, as does Sisters Ann Clennon and Jane Ann Beckman. “We don’t want to forget what it is like to work one-on-one with the women, learn their story and become part of their lives. We have students who came years ago and are still our friends,” Ryan said. The center is funded through grants and private donations.
Ryan said she began speaking with Marilyn Weisner, Executive Director of the Aurora Area Interfaith Food Pantry, about the anniversary and both decided this would be the year to bring the Northern Illinois Food Bank mobile pantry to the center. The food included 2,000 pounds of meat and fresh peaches, as well as lettuce and bread.
“The mobile food pantry is an opportunity for us to inform people about our food assistance programs,” Weisner said. “It is exciting the Dominican Literacy Center has been in Aurora for 20 years, because when you teach women English, it improves the quality of life for the whole family,” Weisner said.