Center for Transformative Action

Transforming Communities Through English Language Education

Serving over 200 students from over 35 countries annually, Open Doors English is dedicated to providing tailored English language education, case management, and community support to non-native English speakers around Ithaca, NY.

Ithaca’s diverse immigrant population faces language barriers that can limit access to education, employment, and essential services. Open Doors English was established to address these barriers, providing tailored ESL education and holistic support to bridge these gaps for all students.

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Our program is about a lot more than just providing English instruction... we take seriously the role of caring for our students as whole human beings.

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Open Doors English arose from a group of educators, including Liz and co-director and Hilary Boyer, leaving their jobs at a publicly-funded adult ESL program in response to new restrictions. Immigrant access to public services, including ESL classes, was limited during a national period of policy change restricting immigrant rights in 2018, resulting in the expulsion of over half of their students.

Eight teachers left their paid positions to launch classes that would become Open Doors English. They set to work as unpaid volunteers and immediately began serving over 100 students. Several months later they partnered with the Center for Transformative Action for fiscal sponsorship, secured classroom space, and formally established Open Doors English. Over the past three years, ODE has expanded its offerings, focusing on customized ESL classes and comprehensive support services.

The program currently offers customized ESL classes in morning, afternoon, and evening sessions led by nine highly-trained and certified ESL teachers. Additionally, case management and community support are integral to assisting students in reaching their goals, such as securing licenses, healthcare, housing, and employment. Over 96% of students reported not only improving their English skills but their self-confidence and autonomy within the community.

Since its founding in 2019, the program has continued to evolve to meet student and community needs. Notably, during the pandemic, the program successfully transitioned to online instruction, ensuring continuity and support for its students. They secured funding to purchase laptops and wifi hotspots to lend to students who wouldn’t otherwise have access. More recently, Open Doors English creatively accommodated a surge of new students, particularly refugees and asylum seekers, in Fall 2023. In addition to classes, community events bring a diverse range of students and community members together.

“People from all walks of life wind up sitting in the same room, learning together,” says Liz. “I think that’s a really magical component that you don’t find anywhere else.”

The Center for Transformative Action has played a crucial role as Open Doors English’s fiscal sponsor since 2019. CTA’s administrative support has been instrumental, enabling Open Doors English to concentrate on program development and community engagement. Collaborations with CTA as a fiscal sponsor have streamlined administrative functions such as payroll and tax filings, allowing Open Doors English to concentrate on its core mission. Fiscal sponsorship from CTA has allowed ODE to receive funding from individual donors and grants; though classes are tuition-based, they offer a sliding scale which allows over 60% of students to attend tuition-free in 2023 based on need.

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