A Light in the Dark

Hello, my name is Jenne Nelson. I am the Program Director at the English Learning Center. I have been asked to share with you the ways that I see light and hope here in our school.

I hardly know where to start. I see the people of our community bearing light to each other every day.

Following, you will find the story of a day in my life at the ELC.


The English Learning Center is quiet most mornings when I arrive. I hear only the clink of coffee mugs in the break room and the whisperings of the women in the Muslim prayer space behind the heavy curtain that adjoins our staircase.

Things pick up around 9am when Alina, who holds the dual distinction of most advanced student and eldest person in the entire school, arrives. She’s reviewing materials for her tutoring session with Muraya, a pre-literate peer.

Behind her is Carlos, who brings us the news that he passed his citizenship test. The whole office cheers (some of us shed a tear or two), and we call his teacher to tell her the good news. We put his naturalization ceremony on our calendars.

When class begins, I help a new student, Suleika, bring a special chair to her classroom, which she needs because of a leg injury. Her classmates immediately offer to take responsibility for the chair each day. She thanks them with a broad smile.

I leave that group to make announcements to all classes about winter weather: the need for proper dress and the danger of negative temperatures and icy sidewalks. One of our Oromo speakers, Lelisa, volunteers to help interpret because she knows we don’t have staff interpretation available.

At lunchtime, I walk to the Somali mall to buy tea. I see two elderly students grabbing a ride home with one of their classmates. They wave and ask about my family. I ask them, “How are you?” They respond, “If we are here, we are always good!”

When I get back to my desk, I find a crumpled five dollar bill tucked under my stapler with a note that says, “Coffee,” in carefully handwritten letters. I add it to the envelope I keep tucked away in a drawer because I find anonymous donations from students often enough to need a place to hold them.

The afternoon break between morning and evening classes zips along. Behind my cubicle wall, I overhear a new teacher asking about next week’s lesson. One of her students pokes his head in to say, “Good teacher! Thank you! Thank you very much!” Other students drop by just to say hello.

As I prepare to leave for the day, I see Mahad, one of our most computer-savvy students, in the computer lab bent over and pointing at Amara’s monitor. He’s showing her where to click for typing practice. Before he has a chance to return to his own work, another student asks for help. Without hesitation, Mahad greets him and moves over to begin again.


These are just a few of the acts of kindness that I witness each day. I have observed their power, watching them radiate through our halls and into the neighborhood. Our students often thank me for their classes, but I can never respond with a simple, “You’re welcome.” My own gratitude for their perseverance and optimism is so great.

Recently, we lost power during evening classes. Excel Energy confirmed that it would be out for several hours. Many students were disappointed when we had to close school early. As they were waiting together for their rides, I overheard one woman say to her classmates, “Let’s keep talking! We can keep practicing and learning! Come on, everyone!” And so they did.

It is true, on that evening, we were in the dark. But it is also true that there was light all around us.