JULY 31, 2018
Meet Lynn Gordon of Madonna Mission in Rogers Park
Today we’d like to introduce you to Lynn Gordon.
Lynn, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I began working with refugees in 2005 through volunteering at Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Program. While I was tutoring grade school refugee children during the school year as well as holding a summer camp, I became increasingly aware of their mothers’ strong desire to learn English. However, these women were often isolated in their small, cramped apartments sometimes with small children which didn’t make it easy to attend classes. Refugees legally arrive in Chicago through the resettlement agencies which provide wonderful initial support but after a few months, many of these newly settled families are on their own. The challenges that these families face are overwhelming yet there is great hope among them for a better life and a chance for self-sufficiency. Outside support is critical for resettlement success. English proficiency allows the women to communicate with school teachers, medical personnel, first responders and, most importantly, provides better job opportunities, among many other benefits. In 2011, I thought I would just create a safe, space where women could learn English side-by-side with tutors who would teach English skills while providing support and encouragement. We held our first class in September of 2012 with about 10 students and this year we have had over 50 women enrolled. In the meantime, most of the children who attended our summer program continued to stop by for homework assistance. There is a strong need for extra homework support since many of these children’s parents cannot help with homework due to lack of English skills and/or little formal education. We developed the after-school program with an emphasis on literacy development. This program has grown tremendously with 78 students attending this past year. Our after-school director works closely with many of their teachers to target the areas which require extra help for these children. We continue to offer the summer Learning in Action program which has a separate class for girls and boys. It is such a fun program which includes, art, yoga, writing, field trips, science projects, language building skills, career days, outdoor play and, most importantly, teaches basic swimming skills.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I would say the road has been fairly smooth. I have always thought it best to start small and make decisions as the program builds and unveils itself. I put my trust in God’s plan for Madonna Mission and try not to worry about the “what-ifs”. I always say that the Mission is God’s work — and my mistakes! And, the mistakes are just opportunities to learn through each step — whether it is backward or forward! Probably the greatest challenge in starting a not for profit is filling all the different roles. While I would rather be teaching the women and children, in order to grow Madonna Mission to meet the educational and support needs of the refugee families, it is important that I balance my time with development, strategic planning, as well as programmatic activities.
Madonna Mission – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Madonna Mission was founded to provide educational and support programs for refugees while placing a high priority on promoting human dignity. Madonna Mission is named after our Heavenly Mother. My faith gives me strength and guidance for this service to refugees. I truly see God’s work in action at Madonna Mission every day. We have volunteers and students of many religions and nationalities, all are working together to transform lives. As refugee students fill our classrooms, a desperately needed community is formed. You would see friendships between students and teachers. The human connection is vital for refugee assimilation. Just the simple act of caring gives students the necessary confidence and support to learn.
I am humbled by the courage and perseverance of refugee women and their families as they begin life over in a new homeland. I admire the courage it takes for them just to arrive at our center and learn from strangers. There are many proud moments in this journey. First and foremost, of course, are the women who come to learn English in order to become self-sufficient and continue to be part of their children’s lives that are increasingly immersed in the American culture. Also, it is the great number of refugee adults who have passed the test for U.S. Citizenship, thanks to the English skills and confidence they have acquired at MM. (Refugees are legally allowed to apply for citizenship after living in the U.S. for five years.) It is the smiles on the grade schoolers whose grades have improved thanks to the homework help. And, it is the number of students who are now enjoying reading and taking books home from our small collection of books. Even though Madonna Mission was established to create changes in the lives of refugees, I am amazed at the changes that occur in all of the volunteers that give their time to the organization. Some college students have shared that the experience of teaching and helping refugees has helped them get through their own challenging times at college and has even helped guide them to a career path in social work and related fields. Other volunteers have confided that they never thought they could work with people in such need and from different cultures but their hearts and minds have been opened.
What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
It is hard to single out one moment but a recent experience comes to mind. At the end of the ESL program each year, we hold a certificate ceremony. One student, Sang*; a young, quiet and shy mother from Burma, insisted that she speak to the ESL class. So, courageously, she stood in front of all of the students and, through tears, said that when she first attended class at Madonna Mission, she could not speak any English and had to use a translator for all appointments and meetings. After 3 years of studying English at MM, she now does not need a translator and has gained the confidence to apply for jobs, help her children with homework, speak to teachers and medical personnel. She was emotional (as we all were) as she shared that she and her family would be moving to a new city to live closer to family members. She realized that she was leaving her Madonna Mission family and the support that comes with our organization, but I am confident that she has gained all the skills necessary to support a successful relocation to a new city and better opportunities, thanks to her newly acquired English language.
- Website: www.madonnamission.org
- Phone: 847-533-4311
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @madonnamission
- Facebook: @madonnamission
- Twitter: @madonnamission