BEACON Fall 2019 Newsletter

BEACON Summer 2019 Newsletter

BEACON Electronic Newsletter Fall 2018


Come learn to dance Salsa and help BEACON students!

    Saturday, October 13th, 2018
9 to midnight, first hour is a Salsa lesson
El Rey Tolteca Restaurant, 8412 Sudley Rd., Manassas
$15/person purchase online or at the door.
Can’t make it? Donate here.

Meet Mohamed

Mohamed carries with him a remarkable life story, but like most of those who attend BEACON for Adult Literacy’s language and citizenship classes, he also exhibits a bright spirit of perseverance that has seen him through some tough battles, both literally and figuratively. A native of Sudan and a compulsory soldier in its military, he emigrated to the U.S. in 2012, bringing his wife and children.

Sudan has significant conflict, poverty, government oppression, and corruption. Over 1.5 million lives have been lost in the civil wars that have gone on since 1955. The Sudanese government maintains brutal control of the news, social media, and phones.

“I can’t forget that date,” says Mohamed, in recalling his arrival. “It was my big dream to come (to America); it was a big life change. I was so happy, our family was so happy. I think I am very lucky.”

Mohamed knew when he made the decision that no matter how expensive, he would follow the appropriate immigration channels and apply for his green card. All told, the steps to bring him and his family to the U.S. cost more than $4,000.

Mohamed attended English classes three times a week. In time, he approached his instructor, Fran, a BEACON volunteer and retired schoolteacher, asking her to tutor him in preparation for taking the citizenship test. Fran relays that she and Mohamed met nearly every Saturday for six or seven months, developing a strong friendship in which they realized how very much they had in common, despite their life and religious differences. Fran is proud to share that Mohamed took his citizenship test this year and passed with flying colors. (See Fran’s volunteer video below.)

Mohamed holds a degree in accounting from his native country. Through hard work and dedication, he has built a growing career at the airport, beginning as a shuttle bus fueling attendant, then as an assistant mechanic, and now as a full mechanic. He hopes to become a lead mechanic.

Living and working in America has been an incredible experience for Mohamed. He loves so many things about this country, but if you ask his favorite thing, he will say it is simply the freedom he feels to travel without restriction, work in any field, and not experience discrimination for his race or religion. He also has a deep appreciation for the Constitution, particularly the ideal of equality and that no one is above the law. In fact, Fran says that this was Mohamed’s favorite question to answer during his practices for the citizenship test. He loved it when she asked, “What is the rule of law?” and he could answer, “No one is above the law.”

One of the things that astonished Mohamed when he came to the U.S. was the kindness of strangers. Once, when he went to the wrong office, the people there helpfully walked him to the correct place-something he says would never have happened to him in his home country. “I guarantee you if you go to an Arab country, no one will smile at you,” Mohamed recalls. “People here smile-and it’s like magic.”

Meet a BEACON business partner 

 “I would encourage any business to consider offering English classes for people who need them. The positives are endless.”

QMT Windchimes in Manassas Park partners with BEACON to provide English classes to their employees. Thanks to its dedicated volunteers and generous donors, BEACON’s classes are very reasonably priced and classes are centrally located in Manassas and Manassas Park, with both daytime and evening options.

Patty Baisden and her husband Jamie pay for any of the people who work at QMT who want to attend English classes through BEACON because they see the incredible positive impact speaking English plays in both the personal lives of their employees and in the life of their community.

“Supporting the whole person rather than just the employee at work is affirming and important,” says Patty.

According to the Baisdens, well over half of their employees in the production area come to QMT without English as their first language.

“We currently have about 100 employees,” says Patty. “We make lots of wind chimes; shipping to all 50 states, Canada, and several other countries.” 

“By supporting their education and celebrating with them when they finish a class, our people in classes, as well as the others at QMT, know we value education, personal advancement, and them personally.” At the end of every semester, QMT recognizes each employee in the program at a special ceremony, with refreshments, a certificate, and a $50 cash bonus.

BEACON Executive Director, Jen Mora Zuñiga, says this partnership is the most successful she has seen during her career. “BEACON has served a total of 29 QMT employees,” she says. “Many of the students continue to take classes semester after semester. The Baisdens are incredibly generous and genuinely care about their employees.”

“Our people who have taken English classes take pride in using their newly learned vocabulary and have increased confidence,” says Patty. “The positives are endless. A parent who can speak English can better help their child in school and communicate with a teacher. An adult who speaks English can better express concerns with his or her doctor.  A person who can read can make better choices at the grocery store, benefitting their family’s health.”

QMT Windchimes manufactures top-quality wind chimes right here in Prince William County. For QMT, “made in America” means exactly what it says. From start to finish, all of their chimes are completely designed, sourced, machined, and assembled in the United States.

“I would encourage any business to consider offering English classes for people who need them,” says Patty.  “The benefits quickly outweigh the financial costs.”

Student spotlight, meet a new citizen

Grace is from Kenya and has lived in the United States since 1996. She came to the U.S. to escape corruption, poverty, and a lack of women’s rights.

Grace found BEACON online and took citizenship classes this spring. On August 27th, she passed the citizenship test and was sworn in September 19th as a new citizen.

Grace says BEACON classes are a safe place for students to learn and she can tell that learning through BEACON’s programs has given her much greater confidence. Now that she is a U.S. citizen, she says that her next goal is to vote! Grace also plans to give back by becoming a BEACON volunteer. She has already offered to assist with the upcoming registrations sessions, when new students will sign up for the winter session.

“I’m so blessed to have found BEACON… I believe that BEACON has helped so many people, not only with citizenship interview, but also with learning English and the American culture, so that we can feel like we have a place here in America and can work toward making a better life for our families,” said Grace.

Meet a BEACON volunteer instructor

 “I had the idea that it would be nice to make the world a better place. After interacting with my students, I came to the conclusion that the world was already a pretty good place.” 

 Watch Fran’s video on our Facebook or here.

Winter 2018 Electronic Newsletter

Could you pass the Citizenship Test? BEACON Students Can! Meet Some & Try It for Yourself.
Help BEACON Students Build a Future of Hope: Double Your Donation – Join the Match Campaign Today!
BEACON provides literacy and citizenship classes to an average 350 adult learners each year. A generous donor has pledged to match contributions up to a total of $5,000 until December 31, 2017. Will you help us meet our goal?

Meet a BEACON Student

 “I wanted my kids to go to a good school,” says Tien, a very busy man and a BEACON student. “Schools here are very good. In Vietnam schools are expensive.”

Tien is 59 years old, has three children, and works two jobs. “When I came here, I didn’t have a car; I biked.” In 2015, he became a U.S. Citizen.
His oldest son is married and lives in Colorado, another graduated from Virginia Tech, and his daughter will attend NOVA next year when she graduates from high school. Tien says, “The children learned English very fast. When they came here, at ages three, six, and nine, after one year they speak very well. Now, my youngest doesn’t speak very much Vietnamese. They talk in English at school, with friends.”
For him, though, language is still the most difficult challenge. That is why he has begun coming to BEACON classes. “My manager told me, if you have good English, I’ll give you a better job.”

Students Pursue Employment Goals Thanks to Local Professionals

For all of us, finding employment is critical to survival. But for English language learners, looking for a job can be overwhelming. BEACON students say the biggest challenges for them are the language barrier and leveraging their experience.

In October, with the help of local business professionals, BEACON was able to provide guidance and support.
Michelle Meade from Wells Fargo and Jim Matthews from Express Employment joined BEACON’s employer panel, giving students advice about what they look for in an employee, how to be successful during an interview, and what students can do to set themselves apart. Students like Nazar got to ask questions and share their frustrations. Previously a chemical engineer for 17 years in his native country, he told panelists he was concerned that none of his experience would be valued here because it didn’t take place in the United States.
The panelists were able to share actual success stories of immigrant employees who gained employment because of their experience in their home country.
Later in October, three Wells Fargo branch managers, Michelle Meade, Olya Frouk, and Hugh Jean, provided nine students with invaluable one-on-one practice in creating or improving their resumes.
Ultimately, students said the employer panel was inspiring and very motivational and those who created or improved their resumes found new hope for success in this critical area of need.

Could You Pass the U.S. Citizenship Test? BEACON Students Do!

BEACON volunteer teacher spent just as much time helping her improve her English skills as reviewing the 100 questions on the test for becoming a U.S. citizen. Practice and practical exercises, such as role-playing, mock interviews, and even driving and travel

planning for getting to the test, helped Mari know what to expect. “When my teacher’s tie was straight I had to be serious, like I was in the interview. Then he would put his tie over his shoulder and say ‘I’m not the immigration official now, ask your questions.’ He would answer my questions then put his tie straight and be serious again.”
Although nervous on exam day, Mari passed. “I was very happy.” And, this past June when she was sworn in, she celebrated her success. “My mom came from California with my dad, and my daughter attended too. My entire family took me out to eat after.”
Mari Cruz came to the U.S. from El Salvador. She enrolled in BEACON for Adult Literacy’s U.S. Citizenship exam preparation classes last spring, working one-on-one with a volunteer instructor.  Like many immigrants, Mari worried about the possibility of deportation and being separated from her family. “I feel more secure now as a citizen.” Now she’s ready to take on her next goal; getting her real estate license.

100% of BEACON students who take the citizenship test, pass!

BEACON Celebrates 25 Years

Paving Paths to Education & Citizenship

Alicia arrived in the U.S. from China only three years ago with “zero English.” After two years taking BEACON language courses, she was asked to be the student speaker at BEACON for Adult Literacy’s 25 year anniversary celebration, held in September at Bethel Lutheran Church in Manassas. Alicia expressed her heartfelt gratit

ude to the great, friendly teachers who have helped her so much. The celebration paid tribute to the program’s many dedicated teacher volunteers, donors, grantors, and community partners whose support helps the nonprofit organization provide literacy and citizenship classes to an average 350 adult learners each year. BEACON students come from 46 different countries.
Sister Cecilia Dwyer, prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia of which BEACON is a ministry, offered special gratitude in memory of the program’s founder, Sister Eileen Heaps, whose untiring dedication to helping adult English language learners brought the program to what it is today.
Today, BEACON offers eight levels of language instruction for English Language Learners, as well as citizenship preparation, computer training, and even pre-literacy classes for the five percent of BEACON students who have never been to school.

Mark your calendar for our Scrabble Scramble on Saturday, April 14th!

Come join the fun, learn more about BEACON, and test your word-play skills!

BEACON Fall 2017 Appeal

Dear BEACON friend,

In Beijing, Zhang was a high level manager at a financial company. Now residing in Manassas, she’s devoting time to learning English so she’ll be hired for a job in her field. “Studying English is my job now.”

Lucia practiced law in Peru. “The justice system was corrupt. We have no good government in my country.” Eight years after moving to the U.S. she works as a part-time administrative assistant.

Students come to BEACON for Adult Literacy with widely varying job histories and skills. Some fit the profile of the “high-skills immigrant” with advanced degrees from their home countries, while many others are developing their skills. All of them are learning English, and that can make finding even an entry-level job close to impossible.

Khaled, from Libya, has a chemical engineering degree but is having trouble transferring those skills to a job here. He’s doing computer consulting out of his home to make ends meet.    

Rosa worked as a marketing executive in her home country of Columbia for 11 years, but she keeps getting passed over for similar jobs here in the U.S. “I quit looking because it was frustrating.”

BEACON offers English language instruction and job readiness skills to help our low-income students achieve their goals, whether it’s to find work, become U.S. Citizens, or just communicate better in English.

Yet grant funding for programs like BEACON is declining nationwide despite a growing population of immigrants and refugees urgently needing these services. Last year we served 375 students in our classes. Over 200 students registered for our fall term and we have a waitlist because demand for services surpasses our strained resources.

So many of our students have left everything behind to build new lives for themselves in the U.S. As a friend of BEACON, you’re aware that immigrants and refugees today face serious challenges. It’s more critical than ever to ensure BEACON’s programs are available. Please help make this possible with a generous gift to BEACON today.


Jennifer Mora Zuniga

Executive Director


P.S. BEACON is celebrating 25 years of service to our community in 2017! We could not have reached this remarkable milestone without your support. A generous donor just pledged to match all contributions up to $5,000, but only until December 31, 2017. Donate today and your gift will have twice the impact!

A Tradition of Immigration in Virginia

“I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong.”

– President George Washington

The hope voiced by our first President, George Washington, was the dream of many of our own ancestors, not all of whom came to America on the Mayflower. They came bearing different traditions, different memories, and a dream for a better life for themselves and their children. From the colonists who founded Jamestown in 1607, Virginia has welcomed generations of new Americans to its shores and today it is one of the most ethnically diverse states in the nation. Read more

Spotlight on: The Sisters at BEACON

BEACON was founded in 1992 by Sister Eileen Heaps to address the need for adult literacy education in Prince William County. Today, four Sisters and Postulant Kay Fitzgerald directly continue Sister Eileen’s mission.

Sister Doris Nolte is a co-facilitator of the new CareGiver pilot program. A retired principal, classroom teacher, and registered nurse, Sister Doris brings a life-time of experience to the program. Sister Doris teaches basic functions and an orientation to entry-level CareGiver careers, such as Certified Nurse Aide and Home Health Aide, to advanced level students interested in healthcare.

Sister Dolores Dean and Sister Charlotte Lange are teachers in the ESOL program. Sister Dolores works with Advanced Level students and focuses on improving reading skills. Sister Charlotte tutors Monastery domestic staff in speaking and reading English. Additionally, she and Sister Cecilia Dwyer, Prioress of the Benedictine Sisters, are members of the BEACON board.

Spotlight on: Our Technology Facilitators

Computer literacy drives the modern workforce.

Yet many of the immigrants served by BEACON arrive in Northern Virginia not only lacking English language skills, but having little to no computer experience.

“I’ve had students who are really scared at first—they are really nervous to use the mouse or keyboard and by the end of class they are so excited!” Benedictine Service Corps Member, Bethany Purkapile, shared. “They want to go out and buy a computer and go home and practice! They walked into class and saw the computers with a look of fear and now they are confident and empowered.” Read more

Getting Students Ready to Work

Integrating Workforce Readiness into BEACON’s ESOL Program

BEACON’s addition of Workforce Readiness Skills into its ESOL program was instituted in response to federal legislation that spotlighted troubling gaps in our nation’s workforce readiness. Signed into law on July 22, 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) helps individuals overcome barriers to employment through programs that increase access to education and training needed to succeed in today’s labor market. Read more