Coffee program aims to connect languages with bridge of friendship

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The Conversations with Coffee program aims to give Spanish-speaking adults in the Perry area an opportunity to practice their English by engaging in meaningful conversations with native English speakers.

If you have ever wanted to try your hand as an amateur ESL instructor, then a conversation over coffee might be the best place to start.

The Conversations with Coffee program aims to give Spanish-speaking adults in the Perry area an opportunity to practice their English by engaging in meaningful conversations with native English speakers.

Conversations with Coffee, a pilot project pairing English-speaking volunteers with English as a Second Language (ESL) learners, will kick off Wednesday, Oct. 28 at 9:30 a.m. in the Dallas County Hospital’s Tenth Street Bistro.

A second program will be held Wednesday, Nov. 4, with additional weekly programs offered depending on interest. The conversations are free and open to the public, and free coffee will be provided by the Tenth Street Bistro.

KaffeetassenVolunteers from a variety of backgrounds and experience are encouraged to participate.

There is no need to speak additional languages or to have tutoring experience to make a positive impact. Discussion topics could range from storytelling to list-making to simply friendly conversations.

If you know ESL learners who might benefit, encourage them to attend, or if you are looking for a fun and meaningful way to volunteer, consider joining the group. The program’s success will depend on volunteers.

The first sessions of Conversations with Coffee will be led by Dr. Judith Conlin, executive director of the Iowa International Center (IIC), a non-profit agency with a long history of working with immigrants and refugees from around the world.

During the past year, the IIC significantly increased the average English assessment scores of adult students participating in its accessible ESL classes. More than 120 refugees and immigrants participated in Conversations with Coffee last year.

The organization also offers a Welcome to Iowa website that serves as a clearinghouse for critical information for refugees and immigrants, provided in 80 languages, as well as a free 24/7 emergency interpretation hotline that helps service agencies and first responders assist speakers with limited English skills throughout Iowa.

The Conversations with Coffee project, funded through a Humanities Iowa grant, is partnering with the Perry Public Library, Hometown Heritage, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and the Dallas County Hospital. Additional funding comes from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the American Library Association (ALA).

Perry was among 203 communities from across the country to receive the Latino Americans: 500 Years of History grant, which also provides public programming — such as public film screenings, lectures, discussion groups, oral history initiatives, local history exhibitions or performances — about Latino history and culture.

More information about the program is available by calling the Perry Public Library at 515-465-3569 or emailing Library Director Mary Murphy at: mmurphy@perrypl.org.

The project’s community partners include: ALA/NEH, the Des Moines Area Community College, Hispanics United for Perry, Hometown Heritage, Perry Public Library, Dallas County Hospital, Friends of the Perry Public Library, City of Perry, Hotel Pattee, La Poste, KICK Marketing, Salsa Des Moines, Iowa International Center, Carnegie Library Museum, ThePerryNews.com, The Perry Chief, KDLS, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, the Perry-Area Chamber of Commerce,  Perry Community Schools and the Center for Towncraft.

For further details about Latino Americans: 500 Years of History, call the the Perry Public Library at 515-465-3569 or contact a member of the planning committee: Heather Plucar, Mary Murphy, Bill Clark, Rosa Gonzalez, Jan Kaiser and Jon Wolseth.

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