Last week, SSNDEC held two Closing Ceremonies – one for ESL (English as a Second language) and another for HSE (High School Equivalency, formerly GED). Ten HSE students and 55 ESL students received certificates of achievement and many of them spoke about the changes that the programs at SSNDEC have brought to their lives.
“I came here around two years ago and there’s been big progress in my life,” ESL student Karel Lodondo told me last week. “Now I can express my feelings, I can help my children with their homework, I can go to the doctor and feel comfortable telling him what’s wrong.”
Now that Lodondo has worked her way through the four levels of ESL classes at the center, she has her mind set on taking classes this fall in other to prepare for the High School Equivalency exam. This story is not uncommon in the center and each certificate distributed last week represented a significant achievement for these women and their families.
“You have accomplished so much,” SSNDEC Executive Director Catherine Feeney told the women. “And your accomplishments won’t stay here. Your accomplishments are going home to your families, your friends, your neighborhood, even the City of New York.”
This echoes the teachings of Mother Theresa Gerhardinger, who founded the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1833. Mother Theresa believed that “if you educated women, you educated the whole family, the community and the world.”
Indeed, if you take a pebble and toss it into a pond, it will create ripples that will continuously expand outward, impacting the entire body of water, not just the spot where the pebble landed. That’s a good way to describe the impact that the School Sisters of Notre Dame Educational Center has on our community and our surroundings.
Nearly 700 women have passed through the School Sisters of Notre Dame Educational Center in its 10 years, the vast majority of them within walking distance. The work that the Sisters do undeniably makes Woodhaven a better, richer community.
In addition to learning English, the ESL students worked together this year to produce a cookbook entitled “From Our Kitchen To Yours All Around The World.” Recipes from Shrimp Ceviche (Ecuadorian) to Pho Ga Chicken Soup (Vietnamese) to Flan Napolitano (Mexican) to Lentil Soup (Bangladesh) fill this handy little book which the students took home with them.
The day following the ESL ceremony, the HSE students gathered for a ceremony of their own. While several of the students still have more classes in their future, a few of them have completed their lessons and are ready to take the HSE exam. In fact, two students have already taken and passed the HSE this year.
I spoke with one of the women after the ceremony about how SSNDEC had impacted her life. “When I came in at first, I was like ‘Can I do this?’” she said. “I had a negative approach, but after I started coming and getting involved with the classes and the teachers I started thinking ‘I can do this.’”
In fact, now that this student has completed her courses at SSNDEC, she is looking to follow her dream and apply to a culinary school in the near future. There are so many similarly remarkable stories being told within the walls of SSNDEC and we are very fortunate those walls are right here in Woodhaven.
The center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. and is located at 87-04 88th Avenue. For additional information, email ssndec@aol or call (718) 738-0588.