While grocery shopping in Wheaton one day, Marilyn Huffman, Early Childhood Manager for World Relief DuPage, encountered a child and his mother from her class.  Because *Sergio is normally shy, Huffman was surprised to learn from his mother that not only does he sing songs from class at home, but he also teaches his family so that they can sing together!

Without someone to care for their young children, many refugee and immigrant adults would not have the opportunity to learn English.  However, the Early Childhood Program (ECP) at World Relief DuPage / Aurora [WRDA] is more than childcare; it’s an opportunity for WRDA to serve the entire family. 

According to Karen Jealouse, WRDA Education Director, approximately 145 parents are able to attend ESL classes because their child is learning and being cared for at the same location. With the goal of preparing children—educationally, socially and physically—refugee and immigrant children are gaining the necessary skills to be successful upon entering school.

 “The immediate objective of ECP is to prepare the children for kindergarten, but the impact of the program is long-term and far-reaching, “said Jealouse.

Through a theme-based, multisensory curriculum, ECP provides the structure and routine that gets the child ready for the American school system.  In fact, teachers in the local school system have commented on the difference our program makes.   Some of the outcomes for the preschool age children include: early literacy, self-sufficiency, gross and fine motor skills, and the ability to recognize colors and shapes.


Furthermore, ECP is structured in such a way that parents are equipped to become their child’s first teacher.  Parents gain the experience of working with their child’s teacher on issues that surface in the classroom, and every Friday in Aurora, ESL parents are invited to participate in a special program designed to promote family literacy.  This program consists of a parenting class, a Parent and Child Together Time (PACTT), and a trip to the local library.

 In partnership with the Aurora Public Library, World Relief Aurora children are cared for while their parents enhance their parenting skills and learn about childhood illness, nutrition, and school readiness.  Next, the parents and children come together through the PACTT program to play games, make crafts or learn a song.  The morning closes with a trip to the library to hear a story and check-out books.  In addition, the group takes a total of six field trips a year to  locations like the DuPage Children’s Museum, Phillips Park and Blackberry Farm so that the parents become familiar with local kid-friendly places.    Selena Kurtz, World Relief Early Education Manager for Aurora, believes that children are like sponges; therefore the opportunity for them to learn alongside their parents is invaluable.

“Teachers encourage the parents to play the games that they learn at home as a way to practice English with the entire family,” said Kurtz.

Alongside the team of dedicated teachers, is a group of equally dedicated volunteers who give of their time to these families. Amy Danusiar has served as a volunteer in the ECP in DuPage for two years.  She got involved after WRDA made a presentation to her Sunday school class while they were discussing what it means to love your neighbor.  Because Danusiar lives in Wheaton, her children attend school with refugee children and she has witnessed firsthand their struggle to adjust.  As a result, she decided to volunteer her time, and now wishes that she had gotten involved sooner.

“God brought these kids from the ends of the earth to our neighborhood and they are precious.  We only need to go into our own backyard to make a difference, “said Danusiar.

Current guidelines mandate a 6/1 ratio for a preschool classroom, which has both DuPage and Aurora looking to increase volunteer involvement.  By integrating more volunteers into the program, classroom numbers can be increases and a greater number of adults will be able to participate in ESL and learn English.

Huffman indicated that long-term, she would like to add a family literacy program in DuPage, but the real need right now is for volunteers.  Unfortunately, there are 40 parents on a waiting list who cannot start the ESL program because they lack childcare.

Volunteers are needed for both the infant and preschool rooms, and for the family literacy program in Aurora. Classes meet four days a week from 9:15-11:35 a.m. and volunteers are asked to commit to at least one day per week. To fill the role of Early Childhood Aide, volunteers are asked to acknowledge the mission, vision and values of World Relief, be passionate about children, patient, and interested in learning about different cultural backgrounds.  To learn more or to begin the volunteer application process, contact Volunteer Mobilization Specialist, Jamie Daling at (630) 462-7566 X 1046 or jdaling@wr.org.   In addition, financial donations to the program are welcome.  Every gift makes a difference in the life of a child.