ESL Class for Refugees Teaches More Than Just Vocabulary


“Hello everyone! How are you?” As the teacher greets the class, she notices something special about one of the students. One of the students in her Adult ESL Class for Refugees is eight months pregnant.

Students’ questions and real life situations routinely shape ESL classes at Catholic Charities. This class, for instance, covers medical terms and hospital situations that will help this mother give birth in an American hospital. These life skills lessons are invaluable for newcomers to New Jersey.

There are many special things about these students– not the least of which is that they are Refugees, people who have fled their countries on the basis of a well-grounded fear of persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Catholic Charities’ Refugee Resettlement program is an affiliate of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which partners with the U.S. Department of State and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The specialness of these students leads to rich conversations in the ESL classes at Catholic Charities. With dedicated teachers and volunteers, newcomers learn about life in America. Tonight, students learn about Thanksgiving and taste pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce for the first time. The story of pilgrims arriving in this country resonates with the students and makes them feel comfortable in their new homes. As do the warm welcome from the ESL teacher and the homemade pumpkin pie.

Over the past year, Catholic Charities Refugee Program has hosted Camden County College ESL classes for Refugees through the NJ State Contract for Supplemental Services to Refugees. Additional ESL classes are offered on Saturday mornings with volunteers from Sovereign Grace Church in Marlton. Recently, Preventative Health classes also started in collaboration with the Southern Jersey Family Medical Center in Hammonton. Through skill-building classes, Catholic Charities takes a holistic approach to assist Refugees in becoming self-sufficient in the U.S.

For more information on Catholic Charities’ Refugee and Immigration Services department, visit