Retired Boca teacher helps non-english speakers learn english

Boca Helping Hands (BHH) is now accepting enrollment in their Survival English: Basics course. The free, 8-week online English course begins Mar. 3. Lessons are at the student’s own pace, and there are mandatory weekly practice sessions. Class will be held via Zoom with the teacher, Patricia Wilson, on Wednesdays. Lessons will be available on Canvas beginning Mar. 3. For students unfamiliar with Canvas and Zoom, instruction will be provided.
The class is an 8-week commitment and requires an internet connection, a personal desktop computer or laptop, intermediate computer proficiency, and Zoom access.
English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) instructor Patricia Wilson began volunteering at Boca Helping Hands in 2014 after retiring from teaching 4th grade at Boca Raton Elementary School. Initially, she worked with clients in the BHH Resource Center who needed emergency financial assistance to pay their light, power and rent bills, but started teaching ESOL in 2017.  
Her first interest in language started with her grandfather, a Polish immigrant who came through Ellis Island and lived and worked in Chicago.  
“We lived in Colorado, and when he became sick, he came to live with us,” she said. “He was a dear, sweet man but never learned to speak English, and I could only say hello and goodbye and count to three in Polish. I didn’t even know how to say I love you. My mom was so busy caring for him, she did not have the time or energy to teach me his language.”
Ms. Wilson’s first group of 4th grade students at Boca Raton Elementary School came from all over South America, so she picked up some Spanish. While the kids learned English in a few months, she noted that some of the parents were struggling with the language.
She and her husband would travel in the summer, so she studied survival Spanish before visiting Spain and Italian before going to Italy. She had already studied French in high school.
“Because of my experience with my grandfather, along with teaching and travelling, I know the frustration when you don’t understand and can’t communicate what you need,” Wilson said. “It makes you fearful. It takes bravery as an adult to learn to speak a new language; reading is much easier.”
The ESOL course goes hand-in-hand with Boca Helping Hands’ mentoring and job training programs, as language acquisition is a barrier to employment for many. South Florida is the gateway to the US for many South Americans and Haitians, who have been the most frequent class participants, but the class has also included Russian students and currently has a Vietnamese student.  
“For teachers of any subject, the joy comes when you see the light bulb click on and you know they have understood,” Wilson said. “I share with my students that while I’m teaching them, they’re teaching me about their culture– sharing stories of our families, our celebrations, and our favorite things to do to. The more we expand this sharing and knowledge, the more our view of the world and its possibilities expands which is a very beautiful thing.”
To enroll, visit

About Boca Helping Hands
Boca Helping Hands (BHH) is a community-based nonprofit that provides food, medical and financial assistance to meet basic human needs as well as education, job training and guidance to create self-sufficiency. Through its various assistance programs, BHH supports over 27,000 people annually.

BHH distributes more than 80,000 pantry bags each year at four Palm Beach County locations and serves over 80,000 hot meals annually, six days per week. The organization expands access to affordable medical, dental and behavioral care through its partnership with Genesis Community Health, serving clients at clinics in Boca Raton and Boynton Beach. BHH sends weekend meals home with food-insecure elementary school students via the BHH Backpacks Program and assists working families with the rising cost of childcare through the Children’s Assistance Program (CAP).

With an increased focus on client self-sufficiency, BHH awards scholarships for qualified candidates to attend accredited vocational training classes that prepare them for careers in the healthcare, information technology and transportation industries. BHH also offers free English as a Second Language (ESOL) classes and courses in nutrition and other life skills. Staff and volunteer mentors counsel the unemployed and underemployed in basic workplace skills and help them polish resumes and search for jobs.

Charity Navigator named Boca Helping Hands a Four-Star Charity for the 14th consecutive year in April 2020. Boca Helping Hands is located at 1500 NW 1st Court, Boca Raton, FL 33432. For more information, please visit

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