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The Learning & Loving Education Center Literacy and Dignity to Immigrant Women Written By Jordan Rosenfeld T o look at the small, modest building of the Learning and Loving Education Center in Morgan Hill, you might never know just how vast its offerings to its population of low-income, immigrant women. Inside, the Center bustles with life; people passing in the halls, stopping to chat with each other or help themselves to the daily hot lunch provided free to the Center by a nonprofit program called Loaves and Fishes. “Learning is the key thing we do…and loving is the community that we form here as we prepare them to reach out to the wider community,” Director Christa Hanson told TODAY . The Center offers numerous classes for a one-time annual fee of $70, though as Hanson made clear, no one is ever turned away for lack of funds. The organization was named the2018 Non-profit of the Year by Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce. Hanson beamed when she described her pride in the community’s support. “The community values the dignity and worth of the immigrant population that we serve,” she said. The Center was founded in 1994 by several members of the Sisters of the Presentation religious order based in San Francisco, who felt there needed to be a place for immigrant women to go to break the language barrier that was often preventing them from getting ahead in life. The Center started out at the old St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish hall with a handful of volunteers serving just 20 women, then moved to an old barber shop on Monterey Road, before moving to its current location on Church Street. Now, in its 24 th year, the nonprofit funds ten part-time employees, as well as Hanson, but relies heavily upon 40 or more regular volunteers who do everything from administrative tasks to teaching classes. The Center’s Board of Trustees Chair, Jim Yinger, worked in the Morgan Hill Unified School District for 27 years. He pointed out that while there are other opportunities for these women to learn English through adult school, this program offers something more: “Here they are in community with their children and with other women who are educators, which gives them such personal power.” gmh Volunteer Driven Volunteers are the lifeblood of the well-oiled machinery of the Center. “If we had to pay all the people who help here what they’re worth, we couldn’t afford it,” Hanson lamented. She said she is grateful for each and every one. “In the 16 years I’ve taught at the Learning and Loving Education Center I’ve definitely received much more than I’ve given,” Barbara Palmer said. She volunteers as an English teacher at the Center. After 32 years as an elementary school special education teacher, Palmer feels that, “For me this is a woman-to-woman endeavor. These lovely women want the same things from life that all of us do—to be safe, to be treated fairly and to have the best for their families.” Along with volunteers, the Center relies upon the support of grants, individual donations and a number of services such as food donated by Second Harvest Food Bank and Safeway stores, janitorial services, and partnerships with other organizations such as Community Solutions and Rebekah Children’s Services. Other local philanthropic organizations like Rotary Club, Gilroy Assistance League, and the Kiwanis also donate time and money. A Foundation of Literacy While they teach many things, the centerpiece of their classes is literacy. “We teach English on five levels, starting with basic pre-literacy,” Hanson said. The women range from those who have never gone to school and don’t know how to read or write in their own language, to those who matriculated in their own country but just don’t speak any English. As of this year, 20 of their women are taking classes at Gavilan College in Gilroy. “Last year we gave five scholarships,” Hanson said proudly. Those women use their scholarships to pay for reg- istration, parking and books at Gavilan. “They bring us their papers and show us what they’re doing.” Literacy classes continue with grammar, writing, and a book club to read books which they can borrow from a little lending library curated and managed by college student Megan Yabumoto. She volunteers her time cataloguing all the books, creating a check-out system, putting up book- shelves and painting the room. Continued on page 53 GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN JUNE/JULY 2018 gmhtoday.com 15