IHELP Creating Immigrant Connections

“You’d be amazed at how well our volunteers can communicate with their students without yet speaking the same language,” says Julie Fox, Executive Director of Immigrant Home English Learning Program (IHELP), formerly the Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Program. “It’s about connecting on a primal level through gestures, visuals, small words.”

Connections are at the heart of IHELP, founded in 1995 to provide in-home English language and life skills education to foreign-born adults in the St. Louis community. “The individuals that come to us want to better navigate and connect with their new world, but are unable to access other education programs due to medical conditions, having small children to care for, lack of transportation or understanding the public system, and many other reasons,” says Fox.

Each student is matched with a volunteer who teaches one-on-one in the student’s home for two hours each week. An individual plan is developed for each student, based on their particular needs and goals, and may include lessons in practical living skills, financial literacy, job searching, accessing healthcare and applying for US citizenship – a long, complex process, part of which requires each applicant to study for an exam that will include 10 questions from a possible 100.

Volunteers do not need to be certified teachers or know a second language but will be provided “all the training they need by IHELP,” says Fox. The average student-teacher relationship lasts three to five years, however, the friendships can continue long after, she says. “It’s so fun to watch the bonds that develop and how much both the volunteers and students grow in learning about other cultures and traditions.”
Given the time needed for effective acclimation, Fox says there is a long waiting list for services – currently at over 200 individuals. This requires more volunteers, but also the “financial support to build greater capacity,” she says. Recognizing that IHELP’s investments needed to grow at a higher rate, they recently started an endowment fund with YouthBridge.

“I literally found them through a Google search, but immediately loved how visibly they connect with the community and support their partners,” says Fox. While COVID has kept them so far from meeting in person, she says she receives information from YouthBridge on a regular basis and answers to any questions about as fast as she hits the send button. “Our fund also had a great return in 2020.”

Additionally, IHELP is part of the Immigrant Service Providers Network, a collaborative of 42 organizations that support the foreign born and launched the Immigrant Family Emergency Response Fund, managed by YouthBridge, in 2020. The fund was created to address the financial repercussions of the pandemic and the lack of funding available for immigrants and mixed status families. Fox says about $500,000 in direct payments have been provided to families through two distributions to date.

If you would like to donate or have any questions about this organization, please contact Allison McDonald.