Immigrant & Refugee Tutoring Program Thrives in Northwest Portland

Trinity Outreach, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Portland, OR
Posted Sep 13, 2019

Program Coordinator Pam Erickson & Intensive Lead Teacher Linda Bonder work with Central American teens at Listen to Learn’s recent week-long English language intensive. Photo: Arwen Myers

Since 2017, a new English language tutoring program for immigrants & refugees has been quietly thriving in the Northwest Portland, Oregon, cathedral where it began.

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral’s Listen to Learn program began in 2017 as a Trinity Outreach effort to expand Trinity’s commitment to radical hospitality. Designed to offer English classes to immigrants and refugees with limited English language experience in the Greater Portland area, Listen to Learn features one-on-one or small group tutoring sessions, held weekly or bi-weekly, to assist help learners develop their spoken communication, as well as reading and writing skills that will enable them to settle successfully into their communities. While these skills may seem minor, it is only as language fluency improves that these high-risk populations are able to find apartments, register their children for school, apply for jobs, deal with medical appointments, and complete day-to-day chores such as grocery shopping and navigating public transportation.

As the Listen to Learn program has grown in the past two years, significant relationships with institutional neighbors also involved in immigrant/refugee issues have also blossomed. Listen to Learn partners with some of the Portland metro area’s most recognizable nonprofit organizations: the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), Portland Literacy Council (PLC), Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS), Lutheran Community Services, and the Portland Public Library’s English tutoring program. In the months ahead, the program (which is located just west of the Pearl District in NW Portland) will expand eastward, establishing its first east side tutoring location at the offices of Catholic Charities of Oregon.

Listen to Learn also enjoys a vital relationship with Morrison Child & Family Services, which offers residential & support services for immigrant youth, ages 13-17, through its Immigrant Youth Services program. These include short-term shelter, staff secure care, and a long-term group home. In 2019 alone, the program has served approximately 300 youth through its residential programs, funded through the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).

The youth at Morrison Child & Family Services are minors who have crossed the US border unaccompanied by a parent or legal guardian, are under the age of 18, and do not have legal status. Morrison’s immediate goal is to locate family members or sponsors in the United States, but in the interim, youth are provided with nutritious meals, clothing, shoes, hygiene supplies, and bedroom furnishings. Morrison’s bilingual staff also provides counseling, educational services, and health screenings, as well as medical, mental health, and substance use resources when needed. If family members are unable to be identified, appropriate foster care arrangements are sought in the Portland area, or the youth may remain in Morrison’s care and supervision until they reach the age of 18.

Recently, Listen to Learn and Morrison Child & Family Services partnered to offer a four-day English-language intensive for eight of Morrison’s students, all of whom have come from Central America and have various English speaking, reading, and writing skills. Listen to Learn tutor Linda Bonder, an experienced, multilingual certified ESL teacher and a member of the Beaverton Literacy Council board, designed a curriculum covering basic communication skills, shopping skills (including identification of American money & related vocabulary), health and diet information, and skills related to finding and interviewing for a job—all presented through fun, interactive activities. Bonder was joined by four other Listen to Learn tutors who also worked closely with students.

The tutors of Listen to Learn are a diverse group—made up of both Trinity Episcopal Cathedral parishioners and volunteers referred to the program through such local agencies as the Portland Literacy Council. Listen to Learn tutors all receive rigorous training, both in-house and through ESL training & other classes offered by the Portland Literary Council, before being cleared to work with the program’s language learners. As the Listen to Learn quickly grows, so too does the need for new tutors. The program is actively seeking new tutors in the Portland Metro area, and prospective volunteers are encouraged to contact Trinity Outreach co-coordinator Steve Isaacson at, or by phone at 503-478-1210.