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EBLO offers educational opportunities to improve lives of Hispanics

As the Hispanic population expands in Baltimore, a number of related organizations have also emerged to improve the quality of their lives. Some are business oriented to support success of Hispanic entrepreneurs. Some provides legal assistance. Some are educational related like EBLO.

Education Based Latino Outreach (EBLO) was established in 1980 by one of the most influential Hispanics in the community, Jose Ruiz, who has been Mayor Martin O'Malley's Hispanic Liaison since 1996. Since its establishment, EBLO has been an active non-profit organization empowering Baltimore's Hispanics with various educational opportunities.

English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for adults

EBLO offers a number of free classes for children and adults in the community. English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for adults may be the most interesting program among them.

In conjunction with the Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) Adult Basic Education Program, the free ESL classes are open to all beginner and intermediate English learners in the community. Although the organization's name EBLO implies their target at Latino population, it doesn't want to discriminate people from other backgrounds, says Frank Ramos, volunteer coordinator at EBLO.

As a result, the classes offered at the EBLO office are filled with students whose native languages and cultural backgrounds are greatly varied, which Meintje Westerbeek, director of the program, describes as an atmosphere that is challenging for teachers, but ideal for students to learn English as it reflects the reality of their lives in this country.

Westerbeek says learning English is important for the students to interact with people in the community. "You remain an outsider if you don't speak English," she says. "You can only access the understood system, and interact with the system only, if you don't speak English. Yes, you can go to shopping, you can get most of them. But to really understand all those systems to interact them how to navigate them, how to get information about why your child is not doing well in the class, and why she gets the grade is really language based."

Although maintaining these practical English classes to satisfy the entire local community's needs are financially challenging, devoted effort of the professionally trained ESL teachers greatly contributes to keeping this program significant and efficient for all the enthusiastic students.

Saturday School and Mi Segunda Casa programs for Hispanic children

Saturday School and the after school program, Mi Segunda Casa , on the other hand, target much younger Hispanic students with tutoring sessions supported by volunteers to foster their self-esteem through various academic and recreational activities.

Mi Segunda Casa program is offered three days a week at a classroom of Highlandtown Elementary School, which is the most Hispanic populated school in the city located near the Paterson Park. Volunteer tutors help students finish up their daily homework and enjoy other recreational activities under the supervision of a schoolteacher.

The class utilizes homework material as a main tool to teach English, which makes it even more difficult than a regular ESL class for children because it requires them to understand the materials based on their grade level. Most students, however, show their abilities to learn fast with volunteers' sufficient attention and support.

Every Saturday morning, students come in to the EBLO office to spend a few hours with their peers and volunteers for Saturday School program. It helps students to catch up with their schoolwork, learn the use of the Internet as well as to build their teamwork skills. Most students are from Mi Segunda Casa ; this class includes some older students and a few younger children. Activities are also more varied including storybook reading, grade-based workbooks, art competitions and interactive educational games on the Internet.

As one of the programs' name " Mi Segunda Casa " indicates, these two programs work as students' "second home" where they can learn and play under the supervision of volunteer tutors. These programs seem to appreciate not only the students but also their parents, who are often too busy or lack in English knowledge to help out their children in spite their hope to do so.

Other services and programs

Other services that EBLO provides are free Internet access and Spanish classes. Under the sponsorship of Hewitt Packard Co., it has built a computer lab in the EBLO office, which they call "Baltimore's First Bilingual Village Hub," in hope of closing a digital divide between Hispanics and the rest of the Baltimore population. So far, they have utilized the computers in their programs as an interactive educational tool. They plan to offer a class that exclusively aims at the use of computer and the Internet soon.

Spanish classes are also open to any interested beginners and intermediate learners. These classes try to assimilate the essence of Latino cultures to teach the language to non-Spanish speakers.

Their annual Latino Fest in Patterson Park has been successful since its launch in 1980. It has provided opportunity for the Baltimore community to interact with and experience Hispanic culture, including music and food. Other cultural events include "Three Kings Celebration" for the children who attend EBLO's programs, and a Latin block party " La Plaza Hispana " organized during the National Hispanic Heritage month.

Call for volunteers

EBLO is currently facing shortage of volunteers, which is causing a long waiting list of students who want to but can't get into the classes. Most volunteers are local high school and college students, all of which seem to appreciate the experience at the program.

Volunteer opportunities are available for most of their programs including Saturday School, Mi Segunda Casa , Latino Fest, summer camp and for other office tasks.

Volunteering for a children program requires a minimum of four months commitment to the program to support the students, who are often sensitive to environmental changes such as tutors leaving and coming in repeatedly. But most volunteers say the experience is rewarding and worth devoting their time.

"It's fun," says William Cooper, a college student volunteer of Saturday School. "I like to see smiles on their face. That really makes me happy."

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