Ivette George, who teaches naturalization classes at Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library, is...

Ivette George, who teaches naturalization classes at Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library, is shown in the library on Wednesday. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

It’s the gap between remaining mute and possibly confused — versus taking the risk of mangling an English sentence while asking a question — that Ivette George understands so well.

"When you teach someone to communicate, it’s life-changing," said George, of Shirley, who spoke no English when her family moved to Spanish Harlem from Puerto Rico when she was 3 years old.

For two decades, at the William Floyd School District, she has worked with the Mineola-based anti-poverty nonprofit, ParentChild+, helping young families learn English, for example. After seven years at Suffolk’s Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library, also helping families become literate, two years ago she took on teaching naturalization classes.

George is one of 10 individuals honored by State Sen. Alexis Weik (R-Brentwood) during National Hispanic Heritage Month because, Weik said, they all have "dedicated themselves to the improvement of our community."

These celebrations of "the histories, cultures and contributions" of residents who came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America run from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 because so many Latin American nations celebrate their independence during that period, says the website HispanicHeritageMonth.gov.

Lindsay Davis, literacy program coordinator, noting the library serves people who speak around 25 different languages, said of George: "She really understands where our population of people are coming from; you know, being an immigrant in this country is not easy in any way or shape or form."

By the time George’s students reach her citizenship classes, these citizens from as many as 40 countries have succeeded by many measures, securing jobs and homes, paying taxes — and getting approved for green cards.

"They are ready and willing to start and learn about the United States of America, so — they are very passionate," said George. "And what they learn from me is — this is something they will be able to achieve."

Her classes do not delve into the pupils' pasts — though privation, suffering and danger may have left their marks. "Some have had it harder than others, but they do come with a love for this country; they appreciate what this country has to offer."

George hopes to inspire her students — however tough their lives might have been or may still be. "All the hardships that I’ve had, I’ve had people that were kind to me, and that also gave me hope; when you meet people that offer kindness, that gives you hope." Saluting all the library's departments for aiding these and countless other families, she added: "We find it improves everybody’s life, the whole community, when we are able to educate and help our neighbors."

Here are the other nine honorees:

Jose Vidal Bonilla, of Brentwood, a small-business owner whose career began as a teen at Commack's La Scala pizzeria, later rising to inspector at Holtsville's Bonded Brakes; he then bought a Patchogue convenience store and expanded further with the La Confianza Deli & Restaurant.

Alejandro Buruca, of Central Islip, an entrepreneur, who left school in the 9th grade to help support his family in El Salvador, joined the Army as a teen, came to the United States in his 20s, studied, and became a mechanic before opening his own repair shop, and then two bakeries.

Lizbeth Carrillo, of Patchogue, social ministry outreach director for the St. Francis De Sales church, a community liaison for the Suffolk police, she created a pilot program for them to keep Spanish-speakers abreast of community affairs. Groups she has volunteered for range from the nonprofit Pronto of Long Island to the Federal Emergency Management Agency; she also has served as a translator.

Margarita Espada, of Central Islip, a state and Puerto Rico-certified theater teacher, performer, play writer, arts activist, and cultural and community organizer; she founded and directs the Bay Shore nonprofit Teatro Experimental Yerbabruja that deploys "the arts as a tool for social change."

Segundo Orellana, of Patchogue, a studio artist who also "enjoys the freedom of painting outdoors to capture the colors and light of nature as well as creating murals and public art projects that affect his community," he has been recognized by the American Folklife Center at the Library of the USA Congress.

Jesus Alexander Riano, of Brentwood, a computer expert with a master's in business, assistant to United Mortgage's national business development director — minority markets, ran the first program the state sponsored that was fully designed for Long Island's Hispanic business owners. A past president of the Colombian American Chamber of Commerce of Long Island, he also volunteered as an English tutor.

Marc Soto, of Merrick, executive director of Pronto of Long Island, a Bay Shore anti-poverty nonprofit open to all; he previously helped manage a law firm, and at Verizon, where his career spanned 27 years, became a senior staff manager for its New York City wireline operations. He also was a volunteer firefighter at Merrick Hook & Ladder Co. 1.

Celia Vollmer, of Brentwood, a longtime Red Cross volunteer and Brentwood library employee, she led Suffolk's Probation Department Community Service for 8 years, and was supplies coordinator for Pronto of Long Island. Her awards include one from the Boy Scouts of America for her work with "youth in rural or low-income urban areas."

Zheni Velasquez, of Patchogue, a bilingual preschool teacher and special education aide, she coordinates a Police Athletic League sports program for children, and helped the Patchogue library's "Madres Latinas Amiga’s" group, which aids women who wish to learn and improve their lives.

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