LEWISTON — Officials hope a new program will boost English-speaking skills among the city’s immigrants by bringing parents and children together in one classroom.

City and school officials and representatives from Portland-based LearningWorks announced a new Family Literacy program based at the B-Street Community Center at the corner of Bates and Birch streets beginning next year.

“The reason this program works is that it bridges the gap between home and school,” said Teeyonda Hall, director of LearningWorks’ Family Literacy program. “It allows parents to use what they are learning and to recognize opportunities to help their children. The other thing it does is recognize families as symbiotic systems. Families help one another, they cooperate, and this program lets them do that while building literacy.”

LearningWorks CEO Ethan Strimling said the program would provide intensive English-language education for up to 30 families beginning in January.

“That would be 30 adults plus their kids,” Strimling said. “That could be up to 60 people per year, depending on the size of those families.”

It’s a partnership between Learning Works, the Lewiston Housing Authority, Wal-Mart and the Hudson Foundation, which have donated $40,000 to fund the program for one year.

Strimling said the group hopes to work with local English-language educators.

“We are going to be looking to the schools to see if there are folks who might be willing to serve on an advisory board,” Strimling said. “That would help us in terms of recruiting. And, there will be positions we will hire. We’ll be looking at the schools and at adult ed to see if they have folks who might able to do that.”

It’s a welcome program, said Fatuma Hussein of United Somali Women of Maine.

“English is the biggest barrier to immigrants finding work,” Hussein said. “We have people in this community who are willing to work, and able to work. We don’t know where they can go, and that is the struggle, so getting the English language piece out of the way can help.”

Strimling said the program will be available free of charge on a first-come basis.

“We are looking for folks who have kids and can come together,” he said. “There needs to be an understanding that both parents and kids have this need.”

People interested in learning about the program can call LearningWorks at 775-0105.

“We are really doing word-of-mouth recruiting, going person to person,” Strimling said. “But we know if you sit back and wait for people to come to you, you end up losing a lot of people. So, we know the best path is to get out and go into the community.”

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