Su banco opening up opportunities

by ERIK DAENITZ

Su Banco is not just a “survival skills” language program.

Instead, graduates leave Su Banco with advanced English skills in speaking, reading and writing.

“The purpose of the program is to give students the English skills they need to pursue the career they want here,” said Rick Van De Graaf, the program coordinator.

Many of the students already possess professional knowledge that they acquired in other countries, Van De Graaf said. However, their proficiencies with English may not be quite good enough to break into the jobs they desire.

Su Banco was launched in the spring of 2005 to help these individuals. It is offered through the English Language Institute at the University of Utah.

The class was the vision of Theresa Martinez, assistant vice president for academic outreach at the U. With the help of Zion’s First National Bank, her vision now is a reality.

The name Su Banco came from Zion’s involvement. It refers to banking services that the bank markets to the Latino community.

All students who are admitted to the program receive scholarships from Zion’s. The scholarship covers 80 percent of the $1,400 cost, and if students complete the three-month class they receive reimbursement for the remaining 20 percent.

“We owe a huge debt of thanks to Scott Anderson,” Martinez said.

Anderson, the president and chief executive officer of Zion’s, was instrumental in getting the program started, Martinez said.

Martinez, a member of Zion’s board of directors, brought the idea of an advanced English language program to Anderson in 2005 after spending a semester interviewing her colleagues in continuing education about her objectives.

Within months Su Banco became a reality and Van De Graaf was hired to coordinate the program and teach the classes.

He brought experience from community-based English language programs and looked forward to teaching students in an advanced class.

“Most of the people at this level are extremely concerned with education,” Van De Graaf said. “They are completely committed to learning English, or they wouldn’t be here.”

Wilder Guadalupe came to the United States with a degree in animal science engineering from Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina in his home country of Peru. One of his goals is to receive a master’s degree in business administration from a university in the United States.

However, in order to be admitted to many universities he must pass the TOEFL, or Test of English as a Foreign Language. Students take the test near the end of the Su Banco class.

“Passing the test will help me reach my goals,” Guadalupe said. “I want to get an MBA degree and after that maybe a Ph.D. I think it’s very important for me to get this type of degree, and it’s another opportunity to improve my English level.”

Guadalupe plans on combining his experience in animal science and business with his continually improving English skills.

His experience buying, selling and trading grains and animal food commodities gives him valuable business expertise along with is understanding of the agricultural industry, Guadalupe said. “After graduation I want to look for a position in a financial institution focusing on agricultural topics and international trade.”

Gloria Villarreal, another Su Banco student is thankful for the opportunity Zion’s Bank has provided students like her.

While Guadalupe looks toward opportunities in business, Villarreal has a different career in mind.

“I like working in computing,” Villarreal said. “I also work for the Salt Lake school district and I am so happy. Everyday, seeing the kids makes me so happy.”

Villarreal took English classes at the Horizonte Instruction and Training Center in South Salt Lake City, but the classes focused mainly on grammar and written English. The Su Banco classes are giving her new exposure to vocabulary and words she never heard before, which helps her communication in all aspects.

“I would like to continue to study until I learn perfect English,” Villarreal said. “I’m not going to stop.”

With her improvements in the English language she brings another skill to her job in the school district.

She serves as a translator between parents, teachers and administration when language barriers exist, she said.

While improving job opportunities is a focal point of all the students, Jaime Mendoza brought up an additional motivation for improving his English skills.

“I have a son who is 4 years old,” Mendoza said. “He spends most of his time with people that speak English. He speaks more English than Spanish, and I want to be able to understand my son. Someday in the future I would like for him to speak Spanish and English well.”

Mendoza, who came to the United States from Peru, began learning English from friends and classes in school. However, he became too busy working to continue with classes.

Now he is dedicating more time to learning.

“It’s very good and very interesting,” Mendoza said. ” I really want to go to school for my family and for myself to be better.”

Su Banco is more than a basic English language class. It demands students’ time and effort.

“We have to study every day,” Gloria Villarreal said. “If we do not do our homework we must go home and not come to class. But I like that. If the teacher is not pushing us we will not study.”

Nevertheless, all of the participants recognize that their hard work will open new doors.

“If we improve our communication we can get a better job,” said Dinora Melendez, another Su Banco student. “That means a better life.”

A big change is coming for the IRC in SLC

by MATT BERGSTROM

Imagine you have just contracted a life-altering disease. You find a specialist who knows how to treat it and the two of you work together to improve your quality of life. Now imagine that after six months you are told you have to go to a new specialist. The new doctor is just as qualified, but knows very little about your specific needs. You now have to go back and find a system that works for you both.

This is what life is like for newly arrived refugees in Salt Lake City. They are given six months to grow accustomed to one aid organization, and then their case is handed over to another, Patrick Poulin said. Poulin is the resettlement director for the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake.

The IRC is an international nonprofit organization that specializes in resettling refugees from around the world in the United States.

The IRC is also the first doctor in the scenario given above.

When the U.S. State Department decides who will be given a new home here, they approach groups like the IRC and ask them how many refugees their organization can take on. The IRC then gives them a number. When the two agree which cases will be handled, the IRC is given all the information on each person being resettled.

The next job is deciding which of the IRC’s 17 U.S. regional offices will handle each case.

Once the local office has the information and has arranged for the refugee to enter the country, the staff have six months to do everything they can to help people get resettled and become self-sufficient.

According to the IRC’s Web site, staff and volunteers work together to help refugees obtain “the tools of self-reliance: housing, job placement and employment skills, clothing, medical attention, education, English-language classes and community orientation.”

This is where the second specialist gets involved.

After six months of assistance from the IRC the refugees and their cases are transferred to the Asian Association of Utah.

The AAU, which is also a nonprofit organization, works with refugees to improve their situation by upgrading housing, finding permanent employment so they can become completely self-sufficient. The goal of the AAU is to have refugees settled into a job, a community and a way of life that will best facilitate their individual needs.

Both organizations have similar goals, but Poulin says it’s a difficult transition for someone coming from a completely different world to have to adjust to a new aid organization so quickly. That is why he and the IRC have been trying to extend their involvement with refugees from six months to as many as 24 months. Poulin feels this is ample time for refugees to get settled into their new surroundings and firmly anchor their new life in America.

Lina Smith, program director for resettlement for the Asian Association of Utah, agrees with Poulin. “I think whatever works for the refugee, I’m for it,” Smith said.

The AAU currently handles all refugee cases in the state including those managed by other nonprofits.

Smith said the IRC will begin working with refugees for up to two years beginning in January. She feels this will help ease the workload of the AAU’s four full-time caseworkers who currently oversee more than 80 cases each. Her organization will still be there to help refugees who need assistance after the first two years.

Smith and Poulin agree that a more equal share of the responsibility between the two organizations is beneficial for the refugees and the nonprofits. But they still worry about money.

Both organizations receive funding from the State Department, but Smith and Poulin feel that it is not enough. Currently, refugees receive $425 a month on which to live.

Poulin said Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has set aside an additional $200,000 from the Utah state budget for refugee services in 2009. Poulin also says The George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation has promised the IRC a $50,000 grant.

Poulin is convinced the additional funding will help greatly with the overall success of their program. He said, “If we are able to provide more quality services to refugees … then we are successful.”