In early June, The Storehouse of Collin County’s launched a program known as The Storehouse Academy. This is a pilot program offering ESL courses. On Saturday, the program held its final day of classes followed by a celebration for its first batch of graduates.

“I am humbled, honored and full of joy on this very special day,” said Academy Director Ligia Urrego. “We learned so much from each other. We taught English, but we all shared the same language, the language of love.

The Collin County Warehouse provides short-term assistance and long-term transformation to Collin County residents in need through the Seven Loaves Pantry, Joseph’s Coat Closet, Project Hope, and the Academy. It was founded in 2009 as Seven Loaves Community

The new Academy focuses on developing language, life and professional skills to create long-term transformation. Based on the assessments, the priorities were to provide language instruction and to establish relationships with local colleges and trade schools for additional courses. Course participants paid $40 to cover the cost of ESL textbooks and other course materials. Scholarships were given to those who could not cover the cost of the class.

Working in partnership with Aspire, another local non-profit agency, the Academy began with a 10-week pilot program offering ESL classes every Saturday. It was part of a five-year vision set out in 2021 by Storehouse executive director Candace Winslow.

This weekend’s promotion included 41 students from six countries (Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela). Half of them were immigrants with a college degree or higher who were unable to contribute to the labor force due to the language barrier.

“We left families all over the world, but coming to The Storehouse of Collin County is like coming to find love from everyone,” said student Moein Huneid. “On behalf of all, we would like to thank the teachers and everyone who contributed to this course.”

Candace Winslow and Moein Huneid (Photo by Chris Derrett)

Volunteer ESL instructors for each class level were called on stage to help present the certificate to the 41 graduates. Many of them couldn’t contain their excitement as they walked across the stage and asked to borrow the microphone to offer a few words of gratitude.

Storehouse instructor and board member William Urrego said it was amazing to see and hear everyone. He noted how anxious the students seemed at the start of the program. It was something he could relate to having immigrated to the United States from Colombia thirty-seven years ago. Now the group was more relaxed and had grown to feel almost like family.

“We gave them hope, a chance to see that they can be anything they want, and that language is no barrier. It is an honor to be part of this transformation,” Urrego said. “Not only have the students changed, but so have the teachers. We know we are making a difference.

Johana Mendoza graduates from the Academy. (Photo by Chris Derrett)