September 25, 2016

The Guadalupe Learning Center

“Fighting poverty and providing hope through education” summarizes the Guadalupe Learning Center’s mission. For over forty years the Center has provided a haven for Salt Lake immigrants needing to negotiate a new life in a foreign land. Located at 340 South and 1040 West, it is in the heart of the neighborhood it serves.

From left to right: Aaron, Ethridge, Lupe Ernesto and Luz

On any Tuesday night, floor manager Traci Grant presides. Jam-packed in the classrooms, hallways and stairwells are scores of desks and chairs. Every bit of space in this modest, two-story building is used for learning. Students sit together with volunteer tutors in small groups. Each group represents a miniature “classroom” where the opportunities to interact are maximized. The energy, focus, and enthusiasm are palpable. So is the decibel level.
Kate Diggins has taught at the Guadalupe Center since returning from a Peace Corps assignment in 1992. She now oversees seven teachers and staff, and also teaches three student groups. “It’s important to keep your hand in,” she says, “so you know what your teachers are dealing with.”
Above all, Kate recruits volunteers. The program tries to maintain a two-to-one ratio of students to volunteers, who are the program’s heart and soul. The staff provide the materials and lesson plans, but volunteers make it happen. Kate notes if she had one wish it would be for an “never-ending stream of superlative volunteers–happy, enthusiastic, skilled, and dedicated.”
Kate’s favorite success story is Eugenio Gonzalez from Tijuana, Mexico. Eugenio was 58 when he joined the Guadalupe family, unable to speak English and barely literate. His third grade teacher called him a “burro.” Returning to school was a scary undertaking indeed.
When he started, Eugenio had no home. He slept on a mattress in the auto body shop where he worked. He cycled ten miles to school and back. The Center helped sponsor Eugenio with a TRAX pass, and he attended class faithfully for five years. He graduated from the program at the age of 63. He had gained four language levels and delivered a speech in English at the final ceremony that he wrote and memorized.
As Kate tells it, “It is not always about just English. It’s about feeling empowered. There are seeds of possibility patiently sleeping within each of us.” As Eugenio would say, “Exacto.” §