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opendoorsenglishPhoto by Open Doors student Amaranta DelgadoLosing a child in a big city airport is frightening enough, but even more so if you don't know the words to ask for help.  Fortunately for Erika Colquehuanca of Peru, she was reunited with her child within minutes. Nonetheless, that experience she suffered a few years ago in Chicago reinforced her desire and drive to learn English, a skill she continues to refine in her new hometown of Ithaca at Open Doors English: the Julie Rudd Program, in downtown Ithaca. 

Not only is Erika well on her journey to English fluency but she is so much a part of Open Doors that "I feel that this is my second home," she told about 200 people, including state and local officials, who gathered Tues., Nov. 19 to celebrate the school's grand opening and ribbon cutting at First Presbyterian Church, 315 N. Cayuga St. 

Erika is among 120 students now attending the not-for-profit school, which was established in September by experienced ESL teachers on a shoe-string budget to provide English-as-a-second language instruction, civics education and guidance to help the area's international residents integrate into the community. 

"For me it is wonderful to be able to work in this country, to earn money and put food on the table for my family," another student Manuel Negrete of Colombia told those attending the event, including Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick, Ithaca Common Council Alderpersons Ducson Nguyen and Cynthia Brock, Tompkins County Legislators Amanda Champion, Anna Kelles and Rich John, and NY Assemblyperson Barbara Lifton.

Open Doors English is committed to serving anyone needing ESL services, including immigrants, refugees, retirees, stay-at-home parents, and visiting scholars.

In addressing the crowd Tuesday, Mayor Myrick applauded the dedication and "enormous love" shown by the school's teachers and administrators, who worked courageously for nearly a year with little to no compensation and with few resources. He said they demonstrate: "It doesn't matter where our home is, it matters where we are" and that the program underscores that "the city of Ithaca is a place for everybody."

Alderperson Nguyen, the son of Vietnamese immigrants who came to this country after the fall of Saigon in 1975, said he knows first-hand the benefits of the program as ESL classes helped him learn English when he was a child. "This is invaluable; I am proud to be here and to be part of this community," he told the crowd.

Assemblywoman Lifton also thanked Open Door's founders for their "deep commitment to the success and well-being of all people who move to the area. "You are making our community, our state and our country a better place," she said.   

Last July, Open Doors has fiscal sponsorship through the Center for Transformative Action, which allows the school to apply for grants and accept tax-deductible donations under CTA's 501c3 status. Open Doors is located on the third floor of the First Presbyterian Church, in downtown Ithaca.

The school is named after Julie Rudd Coulombe, a long time and beloved coordinator of the TST BOCES ESL program, who died this past spring. 

"She was a wonderful, kind and inspirational boss for all of us," Liz Susmann, program co-director and teacher, told the audience, which included Julie's relatives who helped raise money for the program. "We miss her very deeply every day, but her spirit is still present in our program."

In addition to the ceremony, the event included a Thanksgiving feast of food provided by students and also donated by Hai Hong and Tamarind restaurants. Flowers were donated by Business is Blooming, LLC. Festivities also included featured musician Travis Knapp who performed on his banjo with sing-alongs to include a rousing rendition of "This Land is Your Land" and a number of other songs.  

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