By Patty Booth O’Neill
Long Branch — They came from all over the world for a better life, and that journey took them to Brookdale’s Long Branch Higher Education Center in Long Branch. The 265 students all had one thing in common. They were there to celebrate their achievements while families and friends watched at the June 12 Adult Basic Education (ABE) /GED/English as a Second Language (ESL) graduation ceremony.
Students lined up in the hallway of BCC as they prepared to march next door to the Portuguese Center where the Commencement & Achievement Awards Ceremony was being held. Many waiting to make the walk to the Portuguese Club had enrolled in the BCC course for much of the same reasons. “We took English to improve ourselves,” said Ambika Tanari who came from India. “We took this course to help us adapt to this country and to communicate better with other people.”
“We are very, very proud of our accomplishments,” said a smiling Yesenia Guillen.
“Yes,” agreed Araceli Pina. “We have more self confidence after taking classes. We feel we fit in better.”
It was obvious by talking to different groups that there was a definite sense of camaraderie. They felt it was interesting learning about other cultures, and had made friends with classmates from other countries, all with learning English in common.
“Over the years, we have seen participants come to the program looking to improve their skills and quality of life. Many success stories have emerged. Whether by obtaining a New Jersey-issued high school diploma through the GED program or by becoming more proficient in English, our program has given thousands of participants a second chance,” said Carl DeJura, Adult Basic Education director for the past 13 years. The program has been in place for about 20 years with classes offered at the Long Branch, Neptune, Hazlet and Freehold Brookdale locations. This year’s enrollment included approximately 800 students from more than 36 countries and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
“I love Long Branch and New Jersey,” said Geraldine Oliveira. “I am so happy I took these courses. I love Brookdale.”
“I come from Peru. I came to Michigan to help my daughter. Then I came to New Jersey to work, to make money,” said Miguel Huaman now of Long Branch. “Now I’m going back to Michigan.”
“You’re going back to Michigan?” asked Holly Ayaquca.
“Yes, I am now going back to Michigan. But only for a vacation,” he added.
“Oh, okay.” Not everyone was ready to sever bonds they had created over the last few months.
The ABE program at Brookdale is grant funded. Brookdale is the lead institution of a consortium that includes MAECOM, the Monmouth County Vocational School District, Hispanic Affairs, the LADACIN Network and Literacy Volunteers of Monmouth County.