Jackie Bong Wright

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Excellence Recognized at Pimmit Hills Senior Center

By Jackie Bong-Wright

Computer Assisted Comprehensive English (CACE) Award 2003

Jack Sherley worked most of his life in Africa and Spain for an American engineering firm. Retired eight years ago, he now teaches computer to seniors at the Pimmit Hills Senior Center. “Most of my students are totally ignorant of any technical literacy, and many don’t even speak a word of English. I teach them basic computer and internet skills based on a newly developed method – the Computer Assisted Comprehensive English (CACE). It uses visual and audio tapes to show students how to repeat words and phrases in English on their own monitor. It is the best way to learn phonetics and phrases at an individual’s own pace. It helps people improve their pronunciation while learning computer skills at the same time,” Jack said.
One of his students, Lucila Moreno Peck from Bogota, Colombia, exclaimed, “ I took a course in internet at a Continuing Adult Education Center and was completely lost and totally confused. But here, it’s a one-on-one situation and I feel less scared. After two hours in my first class with Jack, I was learning phonetics and English, which I intend to continue at home every day. In my second class, Jack showed me how to write a letter. My third class was spent inserting a flower or an artistic design or changing colors in my letter.”
Lucila continued, “It’s incredible. In my fourth class, I typed in Colombia Periodico in the Google search engine and found El Mundo. Now I can read the news from my country in Spanish. I am so glad I have been able to learn all these complicated techniques and improve my English and my knowledge after just eight hours of class. And it’s so cheap — I paid $5 for a total of eight lessons. After I finish four more classes, I will certainly take a more advanced course. Jack is a great teacher.”.
At another work station, an elderly man was playing solitaire card game by himself, and did not want to be bothered.
The Fairfax County Community and Recreational Services presented The Best New Program Award 2003 to Pimmit Hills for its CACE program. Angie Carrera, Language Access Coordinator at the Fairfax County Executive Office, commended Jack for the high caliber of this program. Steve Campbell, director of the Senior Center, also thanked Jack for his contribution to the success of the project and said that the county was analyzing the CACE program for possible use in other county departments that serve ethnic groups with limited English. Two years ago, said Campbell, a communications company donated 10 used computers and Jack volunteered to teach computer classes. Now, a lot of seniors, overcoming their fear of computers, enjoy learning English, reading the news in their own languages, and manipulating the internet.

Award of Excellence 2002

There are 22 community and senior centers in Fairfax County, and they compete among themselves every year for excellence. In 2002, also under Campbell’s leadership, Pimmit Hills received an Award of Excellence for maintaining the facility, maximizing resources, providing creative quality programming, meeting citizens’ needs, and evidencing a commitment to improving customer service.
Dan Moon, Pimmit’s assistant director, described the center this way. “ There are two big ethnic groups who attend programs here. The Chinese group, with over 100 members, comes on Mondays and Wednesdays, and the Iranian group, with over 200, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Each has leaders who organize their own people and express their wishes. We, in turn, try to accommodate their requests. It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation. Except for a lower turnout on Wednesdays, 70 to 90 people come here regularly. They participate in a variety of activities tailored to each ethnic group’s needs. We can see that the comfort level of our customers is high.”
Moon said that the Chinese group prefers to organize parties and celebrate their Lunar New Year with their own food by exchanging gifts. The Iranians are more lively; they enjoy singing and dancing.
A few part-time contractors and some 52 volunteers assist Campbell in a host of activities. Seniors take part in physical fitness exercises, including stretching, line dancing, Taichi, and light weight exercises. Arts and crafts classes, such as ceramics, water-color, Chinese calligraphy and Persian calligraphy, are taught. Conversational English and computer classes are offered.
Campbell mentioned that people play board games and card games whenever they feel like it, or they go on field trips to the museum, grocery stores, malls, restaurants, and parks. A movie classic is shown every Wednesday. Typically, a walking group strolls a mile at a time, either outside on the sidewalks or in the Pimmit Hills school hallways in winter time.
The center also has the support of local civic associations. Once a year, the Lions Club of Falls Church sends a mobile van to check eye vision and glaucoma for the seniors, and the Rotary Club of Tysons Corner provides financial support for special holidays – Valentines, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.
“It’s awesome to watch the cultural exchanges between these two groups and other seniors. We have a Garden Club, and people bring seeds from their country to plant vegetables and herbs; then they exchange their produce and recipes with others. We are proud to have a culturally diverse membership. It gives us a larger view of world’s mixing bowl in our own backyard, and a higher level of understanding and tolerance,” Campbell concluded.
Aban Mortazavi seconded Campbell. She started volunteering at the senior center when some of her senior compatriots with language difficulties wanted to get together. She was a big draw for the 200 Iranian families who live in the area, being able to speak their language and understand their sensitivities. Forty years ago, Aban came from Iran to the U.S. as a student to study English, cosmetics, and accounting.
“Nowadays, 70 to 90 Iranian seniors come here and take part in various activities – music, exercise, computer, games, English conversation, knitting, billiards, and backgammon. I just came back with 27 of them from the Air and Space museum branch that opened recently in Centreville. They love the many programs that are being offered here. They have rediscovered long-time friends from Iran they had not seen for years, and renewed long-lost friendships. It’s very important to work in an environment where the director and assistant director treat all of us with respect and link us with other ethnic groups on an equal footing. We are like a big family under one roof in this center,” Aban finished her thoughts with a sweet smile.