The Futuro Latino Learning Center at Goucher College in Towson, Maryland, is a shining example of the impact that a single CCMA VISTA member can have on an entire community. In 2009, faculty and staff at Goucher decided to launch a program that would address the needs of the growing Latino population in northern Baltimore County. Through CCMA, they were able to hire Goucher alumna Amy Nigh (‘10) to develop a partnership between the college’s Department of Hispanic Languages, Literatures and Cultures, other service organizations in the Greater Baltimore area, and the local Latino community.
When the Futuro Latino Learning Center opened its doors on October 24th, 2009, it offered three levels of English as a Second Language (ESL) courses. The center has since expanded far beyond that, including adding an additional two levels of ESL. The Center also offers ESL tutorial with job search assistance that includes resume and interview preparation, Spanish-language computer classes to teach basic computer skills, and bilingual conversation using ESL themes to promote speaking practice. An important addition to the offerings was childcare, in the form of playtime and cultural heritage classes. This empowers mothers to participate who would otherwise not have been able to attend the program. The children’s cultural classes encourage them to be proud of their heritage in the face of a pressure to assimilate. All programs, which are predominantly run by Goucher students on work-study grants, are free and take place on Saturdays.
In 2012, Frances Ramos-Fontán was hired as the director of the growing center. She hails from Puerto Rico, and also works as a Spanish instructor at Goucher. She explained how “…the dream is for other institutions to get to know what we are doing and to open up their campuses.” During her time as director, she has experimented with different activities (such as theatre production) in order to boost English learners’ confidence. Attendees vary widely, ranging from 20s to 70s in age, some having only recently moved to the US while others have been here for decades. While the majority are from Spanish-speaking places, there is no restriction on who can attend; the Center has had participants from Brazil, Iran, and Syria among other places.
Over the past twelve years, what started as a faculty initiative has flourished into a dependable and vibrant resource for the local community with help and support from CCMA, AmeriCorps VISTA, and Goucher College.