Neighbors Supporting Newcomers

Our Cascade ESOL Partnership

As families from Latin America have migrated to the United States in search of opportunities, many have settled in small towns like Cascade, Iowa, where their growing presence has boosted business and saved schools from declining enrollment.

At the same time, they face challenges like language and education barriers. In 2018, the Community Foundation learned of the need in Cascade for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and High School Equivalency Diploma (HSED) classes and convened partners to understand barriers impacting the town’s Latino community.

As a result, the Foundation formed partnerships that brought HSED and ESOL classes to community four nights a week. Educators from Northeast Iowa Community College taught the classes, which were held at Cascade Elementary School. Community members rallied around the 32 adult students and their children by providing free meals and onsite child care.

“If parents have better education, it’s a full circle,” said Gisella Aitken-Shadle, chief of equity and human rights at the city of Dubuque, who assisted with the Cascade project during her tenure at NICC. “None of this would have been possible without the Foundation and the people of Cascade coming together to address this important community need.”

In addition to bringing experts to the table, the Foundation used its own philanthropic expertise to drive fundraising efforts that kept classes local.

“We believe in strong families and vibrant communities,” said Amy Manternach, senior philanthropic advisor at the Community Foundation and a Cascade resident who supported the classes. “These families want their children to succeed and want to be able to give back to their community. This effort helped bridge language and cultural barriers to enable these families and future generations contribute to the economy for years to come.”

That neighborly support is something residents like Maria, who immigrated to the U.S. when she was 14, appreciated. At age 31, she started classes in Cascade to help her become a better reader and complete her HSED. A few months in, that work paid off when she could help her daughter with her math homework for the first time.

“I always thought no one really cared about us,” she said. “I cannot believe our neighbors in Cascade want to help us. I am thankful.”

Learn more about our work with immigrant communities