by: Dennis Slattery
A Bronx library is helping to fill a void created by the closure of a beloved community center, expanding English language classes to a neighborhood heavily populated by immigrants.
The basement meeting room of the High Bridge Library was packed Tuesday morning with people who gathered for an informational session regarding the new offerings.
After the room reached capacity — half an hour before the planned start time — dozens more were told to come back in January.
“There is a great deal of need in this neighborhood,” said High Bridge Library manager Margaret Fleesak, 61. “We’ve tried our best to fulfill some of the need.”
The Highbridge Community Life Center shuttered in June after 35 years of serving the area that's isolated by its elevation and two bordering highways.
The popular nonprofit offered English classes, citizenship courses and high school equivalency diplomas to a community in need.
The area has seen an influx of Spanish-speaking immigrants from Mexico and the Dominican Republic along with a growing population of West Africans over the past decade, according to US Census data.
“It was a huge loss to the community,” said Ebrahim Ndure, 50, founder of the Highbridge Islamic Center. “So many here need English classes, GED classes and life skills to get by.”
The Highbridge Community Life Center was forced to close after rising debts and operating costs soared, said former staffer Chauncy Young.
But the library, which underwent a $6.8 million renovation just over three years ago, is doing its best to fill the gap.
“It’s wonderful,” Young said. “One of the biggest needs in the Highbridge area is the adult education classes.”
Yudit Gonzalez praised the New York Public Library for expanding its English for Speakers of Other Languages classes.
“It’s not just learning English,” the 31-year-old mother of two said. “It’s the ability to get a job, to communicate, to help my kids with homework.”
Ndure has been using the library’s basement for citizenship courses.
“We had to expand the program to make sure the impact was minimal,” Ndure said.
The library will continue to expand its programs, trying to meet the needs of all Highbridge residents.
“I want this space to be used,” Fleesak said. “That’s my ambition, and that’s what I fight for.”
from: NY Daily News