*this article has been edited since out was originally published on Nov. 30
Four years ago, John López and Paulina Navas found a second home in the Roaring Fork Valley with English In Action.
López told The Sun. “There was a lot of fear and panic when moving to America. It was not easy moving to a country without possessing the language and having connections.”
Upon arrival, there were numerous obstacles. The stigma of foreignness was evident, and the couple recognized that mastering English was essential for their success and integration. When they eventually resettled in the Roaring Fork Valley, they prioritized learning English by signing up for classes through Colorado Mountain College and joining EIA.
López described the Roaring Fork Valley as a “bubble of happiness,” but initially, resettling in here was daunting. The couple felt alone and isolated.
“We came here with a lot of ideas. We had to start again, and try again,” Navas said through tears. Navas was shy to express herself in a foreign language and credits EIA with facilitating the learning that was essential to making connections and building community.
EIA currently has around 300 active students and averages a 200-student waitlist for their individualized tutoring program. Some students wait up to two years to be matched with a tutor. The nonprofit needs native English speakers willing to volunteer for one hour a week meeting with a student. The greatest need for tutors is around Basalt and Carbondale.
Initially, while on the waitlist, López and Navas joined EIA’s open hours, drop-in classes on Thursdays and discovered a safe place, void of judgment, to practice English with a native speaker. Still, desiring a complete immersion approach, Navas was eventually paired with an exclusively English-speaking tutor, Betsy Key. López, meanwhile, was matched with David Floria during open hours. Eventually, both couples requested to be paired together for individualized tutoring.
Key admits she possessed a fear of foreignness, which was one of the motivating factors for her to volunteer with EIA. “I used to be nervous about being with other cultures,” she said, “I feel like my relationship with Paulina and John has taught me to learn about and respect other cultures.”
The couple started learning functional English in real-world situations, like ordering in cafes and shopping. They progressed to attending cultural events, from art museums and concerts to the rodeo, and participating in outdoor activities together, like skiing, hiking and paddleboarding.
Four years later, López and Nevas are still studying English with Key and Floria, but instead of strangers, they now consider each other family. Still embarking on adventures, the couples celebrate major holidays together and see each other socially.
Navas now works for EIA as the digital literacy coach and Floria is the new vice chair of EIA’s board of directors. He said it has become almost a political standing for him in terms of immigrants rights, “building bridges, not walls.”
Learn more about the experience of local immigrants at EIA’s signature annual event, Immigrant Voices, on Thursday, Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m. at TACAW in Willits. Register online at www.tacaw.org
To volunteer, participate or donate to EIA, visit: www.englishinaction.org or call 970-963-9200.