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Loyola students help bridge the communication gap for Latinos

February 18, 2011

Since Hurricane Katrina, immigrant labor has been a vital part of rebuilding New Orleans, but the influx of Latinos to the area has not been matched by increases in needed services, like English classes, legal aid and employment assistance. Loyola University New Orleans students are helping to fill that gap for this underserved population through their work with Casa Oportunidades NOLA, an adult education and community outreach center for Latinos.

“New Orleans begged Latinos to come,” says Nathan Henne, Ph.D., associate professor of Spanish at Loyola University New Orleans. “Now, five years later, they’re an underserved, nearly invisible population.”

Casa Oportunidades NOLA offers free English as a Second Language classes, computer literacy training, cultural events, and health and wellness programs. However, its staffing resources are extremely limited and the program relies heavily on volunteers to help tutor and train its constituents. Since 2009, 59 Loyola students from 11 different courses have volunteered with Casa, contributing a total of 850 volunteer hours. However, it’s not all about volunteering for these students. The service learners are gaining valuable classroom knowledge while they help Latinos learn English and develop necessary employment skills.

“I wanted to become more active in the community and further develop my Spanish skills,” said freshman Ryan Lilly, who volunteers as an ESL tutor. “Working at Casa, you get hands-on experience with learning Spanish because you need to communicate with the ESL students. This is one of the best experiences I’ve had to learn the language.”

Service learning brings opportunity to everyone, according to Kelly Brotzman, director of Loyola’s Office of Service Learning. By tutoring and befriending members of the Casa community, Loyola students have the opportunity to learn about the issues facing the local Latino community firsthand, while broadening their own classroom experience.

For more information, contact Sean Snyder in Loyola’s Office of Public Affairs at smsnyder@loyno.edu or call 504-861-5882.

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Loyola at a Glance is written and distributed for the faculty, staff, students and friends of Loyola University New Orleans. It is published by the Office of Public Affairs, Greenville Hall, Box 909, 7214 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70118. (504) 861-5888.

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