Storehouse Academy celebrates first graduates

Micaela Santibanes and Ligia Urrego celebrate the The Storehouse Academy's first graduation ceremony on Aug. 13, 2022. (Photo by Chris Derrett)

In early June, The Storehouse of Collin County’s launched a program known as The Storehouse Academy. It is a pilot program featuring ESL classes.  On Saturday, the program held its last day of classes followed by a celebration honoring its first group of graduates.

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

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

The new Academy focuses on the development of language, life and job skills to create long-term transformation. Based on assessments, priorities were to provide language classes and build relationships with local colleges and trade schools for additional courses. Class attendees paid $40 to cover the cost of the ESL textbooks and other course materials. Scholarships were provided for those who could not cover the costs 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 laid out in 2021 by Storehouse Executive Director Candace Winslow.

This weekend’s graduating class included 41 students from six countries (Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, and Venezuela). Half of them were immigrants with college degrees or higher who have been unable to contribute to the workforce due to the language barrier.

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

Candace Winslow, and Moein Huneid (Photo by Chris Derrett)

The volunteer ESL instructors for each classroom level were called to the stage to assist with the certificate presentation to the 41 graduates. Many of them could not contain their enthusiasm as they walked across the stage and asked to borrow the microphone to offer a few words of gratitude.

Instructor and Storehouse board member William Urrego said it was amazing to see and hear everyone in attendance.  He noted how anxious students seemed at the beginning 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 they can be everything they want, and that language is not an obstacle. It is an honor to be a part of this transformation,” Urrego said. “Not only did the students transform, but the teachers did as well. We know we are making a difference.”

Johana Mendoza receives her Academy diploma. (Photo by Chris Derrett)
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