When Caryn Kelly and Lilian Okech met in 2017 as fellow entrepreneurs in the cleaning business, they knew they shared a bond and a common goal. They wanted to make their communities a better place for immigrants and refugees – and they knew their efforts were stronger together.
Kelly and Okech – co-founders of Hope to Shine, a new non-profit focused on developing the potential of immigrant and refugee women – are coming to Ankeny on July 26-28 to share their experiences and philosophies at the upcoming Iowa Adult Education and Literacy Summer Conference. Their keynote session will focus on the importance of adult education and literacy for immigrants and refugees and how those courses can help individuals make important relationships within their communities and propel them to success.
“Connections are one of the most beneficial things immigrants and refugees can gain through adult education and literacy courses,” Kelly said.
Both women consider their work and support of immigrants and refugees as their life’s calling, but their individual journeys to reach this point have been different. Kelly has a master’s degree in language, reading and culture as well as experience as an English and civics-citizenship educator, intercultural outreach coordinator for West Des Moines Community Schools and AmeriCorps program manager. Her cleaning business, Shine Housekeeping, was established to employ English-language learners and help them achieve their American dreams.
“Shine Housekeeping is dedicated to creating positive employment and learning opportunities for immigrant and refugee women as they make their new homes in central Iowa,” Kelly said.
Okech, herself a refugee from Uganda, brings an understanding and fresh perspective to adult education and literacy. She came to the United States with her family when she was 15 years old and knew no English.
“I learned the alphabet while in ninth grade,” she said. “Within months, I was on my way to speaking and writing English. I also identified my passion and need to help others.”
Now as an author, motivational speaker, co-founder of internet and computer training company Bother Tech Community Organization and owner of the cleaning business Cleaning for Hope, Okech is committed to providing community supports to individuals who may not have other resources.
“I’m here for those who may not have a friend to talk to or a family to run to,” she said. “And I’m here for those who may need shelter, food, clothes, Bibles and so much more – just like I did.”
Kelly and Okech believe that adult education and literacy is an important stepping stone for immigrants and refugees, and school districts and community colleges are vital for developing skills as well as confidence and independence for these individuals. They strongly advise any adult education and literacy educator to incorporate understanding and personalization into their classrooms.
“It’s important to be curious about your students and understand the factors that have impacted their lives,” Kelly said. “Be compassionate, creative and collaborative. Recognize the rich experiences your students bring to the classroom.
“Together, we’re better.”