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Literacy Blooms In Hicksville

Speaking and understanding English is something that a lot of people take for granted. Many of us were brought up speaking it fluently and learn how to become advocates for ourselves using the language. However, there are many people — from immigrants to native speakers — who cannot fully grasp English and cannot communicate their needs. Literacy Nassau is battling this problem head on, by teaming up with the Hicksville Public Library to offer its services to those in the area that need help mastering English.  

Since 1968, Literacy Nassau has been helping adults who struggle with reading, writing and speaking English. The organization offers three programs: Adult Literacy Education (a one-on-one tutoring program), conversation groups, and citizenship programs.  Literary specialist Ocaria Silva says that one of Literacy Nassau’s most popular offerings in Hicksville is the citizenship programs, which are offered on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturday. Not only does Literacy Nassau offer classes to assist those who need it in mastering English, but the organization also stands by its members in the fight to become U.S. citizens.

“We offer students citizenship application assistance, so that they can have a smooth and stress-free application process. When we do this, we call it a ‘citizenship drive’, where students can come in, consult with a lawyer and then sit with someone to complete their application,” says Silva. “These days are when you really see the heart of what this program is about— students wanting to build their lives here and who want something better for their families.”

Volunteer Carmen Lloyd helps run a conversation group at the library, where students can have a safe space to practice their English and engage in discussions about current events, culture and whatever else interests them.  Over the four years she has been volunteering, she says she’s seen Literacy Nassau do wonderful things to boost the confidence of people learning English.

“This group is hitting the target in terms of supporting the needs of the community,” she said. “The group really helps them to build confidence in themselves. They really want to learn; they really want to do things and they know that their language skills are not where they need to be.”

She said that the groups she works with are mixed in ethnicities, but that it’s a beautiful thing when they all come together and lean on each other for support.  “The greater diversity definitely helps the group with the level of comfort,” she said.

And seeing people reach their goals has also enhanced her own life. “One man I was working with is now taking a college level course and has become a citizen,” she said. Another woman she worked with was able to attain her personal training license with language skills she had learned in the conversation groups.  “It was amazing to hear how much she knew about fitness and nutrition and we just needed to get her confident in her communication skills,” she said.

Hicksville resident Mark Shimnoski has been volunteering as a one-on-one tutor with Literacy Nassau for about a year. He wanted to use his English degree to give back, which he is able to during his weekly two hour sessions with Michael, a Chinese immigrant. Michael has a medical background and Shimnoski is currently helping him as he prepares for a medical exam to practice in the U.S.

“We go over mock patient exams and work on his conversation and writing abilities so it is grammatically correct,” Shimnoski says.

The classes are more than just teaching someone how to read and write; it enables students more opportunities and a better future for them and their family.

“It has far reaching effects, it’s not just conversational skills but there’s a lot more going on. I know I’m helping him find a better career and life for his family,” Shimnoski said. “And it’s inspiring to me because I really want to see him persevere and develop as a professional and a person. It’s been a wonderful experience and he’s really prospered.”

For more information on Literacy Nassau and to get involved, visit www.literacynassau.org