English for Action (EFA), grew out of a program she launched in 1999 with Spring Miller ’00, after the two became disillusioned with the ESOL offerings affiliated with Brown. As the program’s name suggests, EFA tries to teach not only language skills but how to apply them in socially useful ways. EFA students set classroom rules, help shape the curriculum, and choose what speakers to invite to class. The students also elect a “learners board of directors” to coordinate community service projects aimed at allowing the students to use what they learn in class to improve life in their neighborhoods. This year, for example, EFA students launched a recycling-education effort and an aerobic-dance and health class. The program also makes learning English easier by offering educational day-care for the students’ children.
Young says she decided to transform the program into an independent nonprofit as her graduation approached. Unable to secure supporting grant money, she worked at a local café in the morning, before heading off to the organization’s unheated, windowless office in an old Providence mill. Finally, in October 2001 EFA won a $27,000 grant from the William H. Donner Foundation in New York City. Young quit her job and went to work for EFA full-time.
This year, EFA enrolled seventy-five students and twenty children, and its budget topped $155,000. The staff, now housed in Brown’s Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, includes two full-time and two part-time workers and two AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteers. In addition, more that thirty volunteers, mostly from Brown and RISD, serve as EFA “facilitators,” or teachers.
Although grants provide almost all of EFA’s funding, Young hopes the group will eventually be able to supply 50 percent of its own budget through such ventures as Spanish-language classes taught by EFA students and a workbook and other materials that EFA hopes to sell to other language groups. “We want to remain a constantly innovative program,” she says, “but we still need to build our foundation.”