SUNY Geneseo student Karen Caswell tutors Juan Drejo in English through the Project Together program Sept. 15, 2019. (EMC file photo)

SUNY Geneseo student Karen Caswell tutors Juan Drejo in English through the Project Together program Sept. 15, 2019. (EMC file photo)

Livingston County nonprofit created to aid migrant families

A group of faculty and student volunteers from SUNY Geneseo recently created a nonprofit organization to help serve the English-language needs of the migrant community.

Established in 2018, Project Together was designed by Rocío Vallejo-Alegre, a Spanish lecturer in language and literatures at SUNY Geneseo. The initiative aims to help members of the area’s Spanish-speaking community with their English proficiency while giving SUNY Geneseo students the opportunity to practice their Spanish skills.

Project Together pairs SUNY Geneseo students with local Spanish-speaking families whose members want to learn or improve their English or who need help with their K-12 schoolwork. The program, which began with nine adult and nine child learners, has since grown to serve more than 10 adults and 10 children each semester.

However, in 2020, Vallejo-Alegre said she was unsure whether the project could continue due to the COVID-19 pandemic and also because the Project Together is not an official SUNY Geneseo program. Like most colleges, SUNY Geneseo closed its campus and transitioned to offering online classes for the remainder of the 2020 spring semester. As a result, tutors were unable to meet in person with the people they were working with.

Families enrolled in the program were offered the opportunity to continue receiving tutoring services online. According to Vallejo-Alegre, not only did tutors offer to continue to serve families through the end of the spring term, but some even volunteered their time to help families over the summer as well.

“I am so proud of how dedicated our tutors are,” she said.

During a meeting to wrap up the end of the semester, tutors were asked to bring their “crazy ideas” to share while discussing Project Together’s future, Vallejo-Alegre said.

Out of that meeting came a proposal to create a non-governmental organization that could sustain itself without being associated with the college. The first steps toward this goal were to establish a board of directors and start fundraising so an attorney could be hired to help with the process of creating an NGO.

While Project Together continued to offer classes online during the fall of 2020, work on the NGO continued. Over the course of nine months, Vallejo-Alegre regularly met with students; Beth Adams, also a Spanish lecturer at SUNY Geneseo; and Shannon Curley and Miguel Valencia-Vallejo, members of the newly created board of directors. In January 2021, “Cultures Learning TOGETHER Inc.” received its 501(c)(3) approval and announced that it would continue to serve members of the community with hopes of expanding at the end of February.

“This status marks a big milestone for TOGETHER on our journey to turn this great program into a fully sustainable nonprofit organization,” Curly said.

Now with 501(c)(3) approval, Cultures Learning TOGETHER is able to apply for grants and access other funding options for charitable NGOs. Current efforts include fundraising through the Amazon Smile and Shop with Scrip programs. The NGO will received a donation for each regular purchase made through either of site. These programs allow donors to make donations at no extra cost while shopping for every day needs.

Moving forward the team hopes Cultures Learning Together will continue to help those who are limited by language and cultural barriers by growing in size to offer more languages in different regions. The organization already has various community partnerships such as the Geneseo-Groveland Emergency Food Pantry which has helped to deliver food to families in need throughout the pandemic.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on Cultures Learning TOGETHER Inc., click here. To obtain the enrollment codes for the Amazon Smile and Shop with Scrip programs, contact Beth Adams at bethadams@cultureslearningtogether.org.

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