Teaching English at Pamper Lake Highlands: Moms ‘want to feel a part’

Pamper Lake Highlands

Cindy Engel is in her fourth year teaching English to young mothers at Pamper Lake Highlands, and she’s as enthusiastic and committed as ever.

“It’s fun to watch their eyes light up when they understand,” she says.

Engel was at Highland Oaks Baptist Church Wednesday to register women for ESL (English as a Second Language) classes and their babies and toddlers for free childcare. PLH also offers a program called “Bright Futures,” which equips the women with financial literacy, goal setting, time management and job or college preparedness.

PLH, which has served a majority Hispanic population thus far, is reaching out this year to women in the historic Hamilton Park neighborhood and to mothers from Myanmar. Northlake and Wallace Elementary, in particular, have high concentrations of refugees from war-torn Myanmar (also known as Burma), as do the apartment communities which feed them.

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Here’s the problem: PLH has had an overwhelming response, and a larger-than-expected number of moms are signing up to participate. Founder and Executive Director Caren Bright says PLH has plenty of space in their new digs at Highland Oaks, but volunteers – not so much. She’s seeking 10-15 soft-hearted do-gooders who love Lake Highlands and want to make a difference in the lives of their neighbors.

Melanie Barton is one of those volunteers.

Barton just retired from a long career as a lawyer in the Dallas County D.A.’s office, in part, she says, so that she can give back to the Lake Highlands community. She’s served on the PLH board and attended night meetings since its inception but regretted being unable to help during the day.

“I’ve always wanted to teach ESL and I can’t wait until we start our GED program next year. I’d love to teach that.”

Barton will attend training for her new gig next week and begin as an assistant teacher next week.

“Not only are the students going to learn a lot, but I’m going to learn a lot from them,” admits Barton, who previously observed classes. “It’s exciting to watch the women learn and talk and discuss things that are important to them and apply them to the real world.”

English classes for these moms, says Barton, aren’t dry lessons from a dusty book. They are life-changers.

“These are attentive students learning practical lessons and sharing real-life examples. They want to learn English to feel a part of their community. So many have young children, and they don’t want to feel shut out. It’ a barrier for their children if they can’t participate. We are empowering these women to participate in their family’s lives and in their community more effectively.”

Engel, who teaches more advanced students at PLH, understands that the world can be a complicated place when you don’t understand the language, making tasks like registering your car, enrolling your child at school or being pulled over for a speeding ticket seem overwhelming.

“One lady took her child to the doctor and they asked if she needed a translator. She said, no, that she understood. That motivates me.”

Caren Bright developed the Bright Futures curriculum, a kind of road map for overcoming hurdles and making the best life possible for your family.

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“We ask, ‘What and who would you be if there were no obstacles,’” says Caren, “then we set about goal setting and planning the steps to overcome those obstacles like a ladder.”

Caren would know. She conquered poverty, domestic violence and homelessness to create Pamper Lake Highlands, beginning with a simple plan – distribute diapers to needy moms.

If you’d like to help, PLH volunteers will be at Highland Oaks Baptist Church today/Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon to chat with you. You may also email Caren at carenbright@pamperlakehighlands.org, call 214-757-9253 or visit the PLH website here.

PLH will participate in North Texas Giving Day Sept. 20. Learn more here.

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