Literacy Network Celebrates New Americans and Keator Family Scholars

Members of the Literacy Network of South Berkshires, along with program participants and residents who recently immigrated to America, celebrated the successes of the program with a toast at a celebration held at the Norman Rockwell Museum on Thursday, July 21. Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson.

Stockholm — It was a celebration of education and immigrants as The South Berkshires Literacy Network hosted a special event at Norman Rockwell Museum Thursday, July 21.

The event honored recipients of the organization’s Keator Family Scholarship for New Americans, as well as program participants who have recently been sworn in as U.S. citizens and Berkshire residents who are preparing for their exams.

Left to right: Literacy Network Board Chair Merle Duskin Kailas, New American Maicol Arias, Executive Director of the organization Leigh Doherty and New American Jose Miguel Arias. José is Maicol’s father. Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson.

The organization, which was founded in 1991, offers free English lessons for residents of Berkshire County and surrounding areas, as well as US citizenship test preparation, adult basic education and preparation for high school equivalency tests.

In 2019, the organization launched the Matthew and Hannah Keator Family Scholarship for New Americans, a scholarship program for future American citizens funded by the Matthew and Hannah Keator Family Foundation.

Under the program, recipients receive financial support for legal services during the immigration screening and application process, as well as support to offset costs associated with applying for federal naturalization.

Scholarship recipients are assigned a LitNet tutor who works with the candidate to prepare for naturalization, civics and literacy exams.

According to a press release from the organization, 19 scholarship recipients have become citizens through the program since 2019, with eight more recipients expected to become citizens this year or early next year.

“I think this program is extremely important for people who want to become American citizens,” said the organization’s executive director, Leigh Doherty. “It’s very expensive to become an American, so for a lot of people it’s very difficult. Our program has a great partnership with the Berkshire Immigrant Center which makes the process easy.

More than 70 people, including members of the Literacy Network of South Berkshires, as well as immigrants who have participated in the program, attended the event on July 21. Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson.

Doherty said the organization has served immigrants from various countries, including Pakistan, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Colombia, Ireland and South Korea.

“The diversity in the Berkshires is amazing,” she said. “What we do is help people achieve a major life-changing goal.”

“Language can be a real barrier for immigrants,” said Miguel Silva, the organization’s learner liaison. “If you come to a country and you don’t know the language, it means your eligibility for jobs is low. You can’t communicate with the teachers who teach your children, or with the doctors, it’s a huge obstacle. Having an organization that has volunteer tutors to provide assistance can speed up the learning process. Having this resource available helps people.

Melissa Bye, who is one of the organization’s tutors, said the program is very rewarding both for the students she teaches and for Bye herself.

“It’s the American dream for college students, and I’m happy to be a part of it for them,” Bye said. “Everyone is wonderful and supportive. I have volunteered for other organizations but this is by far the best experience I have had.

For more information on the South Berkshire Literacy Network, go to its website.

See video of the event below, courtesy of editor Shaw Israel Izikson.

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