*Read below about Chelsea Zesch’s amazing internship with OportunidadesNOLA!*
The mission of OportunidadesNOLA is to “promote the successful integration of immigrants into the greater New Orleans society, and reduce barriers resulting from language, culture, and race.” They aim to achieve this by offering many resources including English as a Second Language (ESL) courses, computer literacy courses, a language exchange program, as well as provide medical and social services referrals and interpretation.
The program is funded by grants and private foundations; last year The Royer Family Fund provided OpNOLA with new technology to create an up-to-date computer lab. The Staff consists of two Directors, several teachers and interns, and volunteers, all of whom are devoted to bringing the New Orleans Latino community together to study English and engage in cultural exchange with other members of the New Orleans community.
Those working with OpNOLA also participate in a cultural exchange during the break in between classes, where all gather in the hall to practice their English, Spanish, and Portuguese skills over coffee and the occasional snack made by ESL students as fundraisers for a variety of causes.
This fall I am working with the program as the Language Exchange Intern—a position developed by Madeline, the Associate Director, and myself—just this semester in response to the demand and interest in a language exchange between the English-speaking community and the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking students taking ESL courses at OpNOLA. This new program encourages the exchange of cultural and linguistic knowledge between language learners of different backgrounds and cultures. While interning, I developed a curriculum and a compilation of resources to stimulate effective conversation and guide the language learners by providing ideas for conversation topics and discussion questions to promote the practice of new vocabulary. In addition to developing the program, I was responsible for pairing the language learners and remaining in contact with them to make sure that all of their needs were being met.
My favorite aspects of working with the organization were the flexibility and opportunities that the interns were given to create and tailor their position and responsibilities to fill any void or enhance any aspect within the OpNOLA program, as well as the accessibility of the program directors, which created a great mentorship and helped me see that I was a valuable addition to the program. The freedom to build and develop a program has helped me to acquire an independent identity within the organization as well as learn to trust my own capacity to successfully implement new ideas—and even entire programs—without constant supervision.
I am not, however, the only one with a strong passion for the work of OpNOLA, as many other volunteers have expressed enthusiastically that their involvement has a visible impact on the community. When working with the organization Andres Sosa, a Tulane student and a native Panamanian (panameño), observed that “[one gains] knowledge of a different culture, which is just as rewarding as helping the people you are reaching out to at OportunidadesNOLA.” The hard work of all the volunteers does not go unnoticed, and the volunteers find that they get just as much from the program as they put into it. The opinions and ideas of the volunteers and interns are highly valued. Jake, a junior at Tulane University and a volunteer at OportunidadesNOLA, believes that the program, “provides a medium through which individuals of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds can interact, explore, and develop fulfilling educational and social relationships.”
Beth Larkin, an ESL teacher stands firmly by her belief that “OportunidadesNOLA is all about great people coming together to help the community” and I strongly believe that by joining individuals from three different cultures and linguistic backgrounds, the program forms one very welcoming and engaging community for everyone.
For more information about the work that we do at OportunidadesNOLA please visit http://www.casanola.org.