Immigrants attending English classes supported by state funds showed off their basic language skills during a visit Thursday to a Brentwood community center by New York Secretary of State Cesar A. Perales, whose department oversees the $6 million statewide literacy and citizenship effort.
The Office for New Americans, as the initiative is called, was launched in March as a network of 27 opportunity centers where immigrants can attend free classes, take steps to become citizens and eventually receive training to launch or grow businesses.
Perales said the visit was part of his department’s ongoing evaluation of the initiative, which according to his office seeks to reach 100,000 immigrants over a three-year period.
The office, Perales said, is trying to carry out Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s vision of immigrants who are integrated “into the civic life of the state” and have better economic opportunities as a result.
“The governor believes that the strongest anti-poverty effort is to teach people English,” Perales said.
Long Island has three opportunity centers: one managed by the Economic Opportunity Commission of Nassau County in Hempstead, another run by Literacy Nassau in Freeport, and the one Perales visited at the office of Make the Road New York in Brentwood.
Perales sat with seven immigrant students in an afternoon class as they used their new vocabulary to discuss their family makeup, likes and places of residence.
Isela Chávez-Portugal, 51, a Brentwood resident and part-time housekeeper, said learning English is allowing her to follow the news in English and to speak for herself when out on errands. “It’s very important to be able to speak to grow as a person,” she said.