Program Spotlight: Using personal experience to help newcomers to the United States

In this guest post, Ashley Boyd Pierce, adult education ESL program specialist and instructor for Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Kentucky, shares her program’s Family Service Learning project that not only benefits newcomers to her community, but helps program participants gain employability skills:

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Participants in the JCPS-Americana Family Learning Program

“One of the things I hear often from my friends and students who are refugees is: I want to be able to help people again,” shared Parent Facilitator Kristy Robison after beginning the first Family Service Learning project of the JCPS-Americana Family Learning Program. The JCPS-Americana program, an NCFL Family Learning partner site in Louisville, Kentucky, is made up of immigrant and refugee participants who remember their challenging transition to the United States. After brainstorming about who they want to help, they became very passionate about helping other newcomer families. The participants decided to make welcome bags to distribute through the Survivors of Torture Recovery Center (STRC), located in their community.

The parents sort donations before making a list of total items.

After creating a list of items to use in the bags, participants reached out to potential receiving agencies. Other participants were tasked with creating a donations flyer in Microsoft Word. The Parent Facilitator was able to integrate various lessons into this project including practical computer skills, creating a community web to identify the group’s resources, and practice conversations to ask for donations.

The momentum began to build once the groundwork was laid and the plans were made. The participants asked their friends and ESL teachers for donations, and the flyer was shared on social media. Each day families would bring in their own donations, including cash. During class, the group organized the donations and made a list of other items that could be bought with the cash donation. One family volunteered to go shopping with the cash for the remaining items.

A family from Haiti makes welcome cards to include in the bags.
A family from Haiti makes welcome cards to include in the bags.

The beautiful part of the families’ individual donations is the thought behind the items. There are many items that were not even on the flyer’s list—laundry detergent, towels, lotion, body wash, razors, shaving cream, hand soap, for example. The towels and blankets were colorful and fun. These families remember what they had or wished they had that improved life in a new country. Additionally, the parents and children made welcome cards to include in the bags to add an extra personal touch.

JCPS-Americana Family Learning participants will soon complete 12-15 welcome bags. They will personally be able to walk them over to STRC as it is next to Americana World Community Center, where the family learning program takes place. The families identified and utilized their strengths, developed new skills, and worked collectively as a group to complete this project. They were also able to reflect on how much they have grown and adapted to life in a new country and culture. Now each family has an outstanding story of how they are able to help people again. The skills that they have used and learned will inevitably encourage and empower them to continue serving others in the community.

Interested in beginning a Family Service Learning project in your community? Check out the following for inspiration:

Have questions? Contact Dr. Josh Cramer, vice president of NCFL, at