English Learning Center

Program Mission Statement




We are a learning community of refugees, immigrants, and advocates.

Our mission is building knowledge for better lives and livelihoods.



Who we serve:


Each year, we welcome 450 adult immigrants and refugees at our doors.


Our students reflect the incredible diversity of the Twin Cities community – representing more than 30 countries and speaking nearly 20 languages.



Currently, about 70% of our students arrived in the United States as refugees, the majority from Somalia. More than half have had fewer than five years of formal education.




What we provide:


At the most basic: Education. Opportunity. Community.


We provide free, culturally sensitive English language education, as well as classes in math, computers, reading, and citizenship preparation.


But what happens here is about more than just a classroom. It’s a community. We provide a space for every student to feel welcomed, safe, and encouraged.


In this atmosphere, students thrive. Often, they teach us just as much as we teach them. Please feel free to browse the stories below to learn more about the incredible determination and resilience of our students.




Why it matters:


Immigrants and refugees know that learning English is the key to unlocking opportunities for success in their new home. From healthcare to banking, transportation and shopping to employment, access to language impacts every aspect of our lives.


But learning another language, on top of adjusting to a completely new place and culture, is hard. Especially when you’re expected to do it on your own.


That’s why the English Learning Center exists. Because we believe that no one should have to navigate life in a new country alone, especially after years, often decades, of trauma and loss. We believe our immigrant and refugee neighbors are just that – neighbors. And we help our neighbors.



English Learning Center Stories

Nora Finds Connection and Community

Before coming to the United States, Nora owned her own business in Somalia, selling coffee, tea, and snacks. She had many customers and knew a lot of people. So the isolation she felt when she moved to Minnesota was a stark contrast. At first, Nora didn’t leave the house, let alone talk to people. She…

Ibrahim learns English

Breaking Out of the Box

“I could not go anywhere. No movement…My life was a box. I live 23 years there.” This is how Ibrahim describes living in a refugee camp in Kenya from age 9 to 32, after fleeing violence and civil war in his home country of Somalia. He was not free to travel or even leave the…

Distance Learning 2.0

I’ve never considered myself a computer expert, so I was a little nervous when I started my AmeriCorps VISTA role last August as the ELC’s next distance learning coordinator. However, I quickly learned the same lesson I now try to impart to students: Distance learning isn’t scary, and anyone can do it. Over the last…

A Citizen at Last

“Language is important to navigate life. You can’t fill out paperwork for a job or make a doctor’s appointment if you don’t know the language. Start learning English immediately – as soon as you arrive!” Like any of our students, Halimo is no stranger to hard times. She fled Somalia’s civil war with her husband…

Click here for more stories from the English Learning Center.



I enjoyed having the Mount Olivet Lutheran Church Friends Forever service group come for a conversation group with students because the students really engaged and used their English.

Mary Teacher at ELC

Education is important. If you have no education, you have no eyes. With an education, things are possible.

Ahmed ELC Student

When I see the students benefit, it makes me feel very good!

Shukri ELC Student

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!”

Jenne Program Director at ELC

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