For more than 50 years, Catholic Charities has been meeting the needs of Baltimore’s Latino community in East Baltimore. Originally known as the Hispanic Apostolate, the immigrant support program began by teaching English to new immigrants. Over the past half-century, the program has grown into a comprehensive resource center for immigrants, now known as the Esperanza Center. The center provides a range of services, including legal services, a health clinic, English language instruction, citizenship classes, and general client support services (e.g., translation, family reunification, and resource referrals).
Demand for the center’s services has been growing in recent years with the increase in Baltimore’s immigrant population, and the recent surge in the unaccompanied minor population has taxed the center’s resources. According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, 2,250 unaccompanied minors were placed with sponsors in Maryland during the first seven months of 2014, and Catholic Charities provided services to more than 700 of them, helping to reunite the children with family members or sponsors in Maryland.
With a grant from the Abell Foundation, in spring 2015 the Esperanza Center began offering a special English as a Second Language (ESL) class designed specifically to meet the needs of the unaccompanied minors, most of whom arrived in the United States with no English skills and no formal education. The new program will help these young people learn English and adjust to their new schools and communities, with the goal of keeping them engaged in school and preventing school drop-out. The director of the center’s ESL program is working closely with Baltimore City Public Schools ESL coordinator to ensure that the center’s curriculum meets the unique needs of these children. Ninety-one students enrolled in the first two sessions of the specialized ESL classes, and the center has a goal of serving at least 135 students in the first year of the program.