ESL Students Give Back to the Community

Posted on April 18, 2015

Karla Colmenarez and Max Jin are two current ESL students at St. Mark who strive to live by the Golden Rule.


Karla, 30, is an industrial engineer from Venezuela.  She lives with her sister in Oakton while taking technical courses.  She says that these classes along with immersing herself in an English-speaking environment will further her engineering career when she returns to Venezuela later this year.  For the spring term, Karla hopes to qualify for the advanced ESL class.

In between learning about hazardous materials and OSHA procedures, Karla volunteered at Family PASS, a non-profit that provides support services to homeless families in Fairfax County.

For several weeks, Karla answered and tracked phone calls and sorted donated clothing for distribution to those in need.  “I volunteer at church at home in Venezuela,” Karla explained. “So I was happy to help at Family PASS.”


Max, 50, came to the U.S. from Beijing, China.  Max said America always had interested him and wanted to learn more about the country.  So when he came for a visit 20 years ago, he decided to stay.  Today he works from home as a graphic designer for a desktop publishing company.  He lives in Fairfax with his wife and son.

In addition to being a student, Max supports the ESL program regularly by translating flyers and news releases into Chinese.  These pieces are distributed to the local Chinese media and handed out at area stores to publicize St. Mark’s ESL class offerings.

Max’s energy and initiative are well known to ESL students and volunteer instructors.  So it was not surprising that he successfully negotiated permission to distribute flyers and ESL grocery bags at the Great Wall Supermarket in Merrifield.  Great Wall specializes in Asian food and markets to the local Asian population.  During his time taking ESL classes, Max also has been instrumental in welcoming other Chinese students to the ESL program, helping them get comfortable learning English.

Max says he misses certain things about his homeland.  “I miss my family members and the food from China,” he said.  “But I’m happy to be a U.S. citizen.  I have a good job, and I’m happy to help others learn English in their new country.”

About the author:

Tom Welle is the team leader for Beginner 1, instructs the Writing Class, and coordinates St. Mark ESL student outreach.

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