By NICHOLAS S. STERN
The Frederick News-Post
FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — Alex Sardi started her volunteer work at Frederick nonprofit Centro Hispano by folding clothes and answering phones.
Sardi, a 19-year-old sophomore majoring in Spanish and art history at Hood College, has moved on to teaching English and, over the past few months, grant writing.
When she started out as a college student in Boston, Sardi soon realized her high school classes had not come close to preparing her for the level into which she had tested.
To catch up, Sardi spent extra hours with tutors and practicing her language skills wherever she could, she said.
Sardi transferred to Hood this year and started working at Centro Hispano, where people, mostly from Central America and Mexico, come to learn English or seek advice on how to apply for a job.
Chatting with them not only sharpened her grammar but also boosted her confidence in speaking Spanish, a typical barrier that must be overcome to gain fluency, she said.
The stories she has heard over the past six months about the lives of immigrants she has met and their daily ordeals have sparked her interest in immigration policy and law, Sardi said.
In Frederick County, for instance, she sees the county commissioners’ effort to declare English as the official language a punitive measure that does not help immigrants learn the language any faster.
“I don’t think the people who wrote the legislation know how hard it is to learn English fluently,” she said.
Many of the people she meets have escaped grinding poverty in their native countries, Sardi said. They often work low-paying jobs for long hours. They have little spare time to devote to English lessons, and any extra money they save is usually sent back to support family members in their home countries — the very reason they immigrated to the United States.
“I don’t know why politicians want to make it more difficult for them to be better citizens,” Sardi said.
Those who attend English or citizenship classes at Centro Hispano, which are free except for the cost of materials, are thankful for the services, she said.
“You just see it in their faces, they’re so grateful,” she said. “Actually being able to see the people you’re going to help is definitely the most rewarding thing about it.”
And as Frederick County’s population of immigrants keeps growing, organizations such as Centro Hispano will become more important to help smooth their transition, she said.
“I think Centro is an amazing place that needs to be expanded,” she said.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)