Building Community in the Tenderloin

Christine Cordova, volunteer extraordinaire, teaches English to Arab mothers in our Tenderloin property.

San Francisco’s growing diversity has brought about an increasing need to have classes in basic English language for students whose native language is not English. At Tenderloin Family Housing, mothers from countries that include Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen meet regularly to learn English. They arrive with little or no knowledge of English or American culture, often, arriving with few years of formal education. Most of the women married by the age of 18 and now have several children. The mothers frequently experience harassment based on their religion and culture, yet they are very eager to learn because they want a better life for themselves and their children.

The Arab Mothers English as a Second Language program was started in 2011 by Vera Inouye-Terris, a social worker, who saw a great need for the program. Since then Christine Cordova has taken up the helm to teach classes.

Classes meet three days/week for two hours/each class. After a successful career in venture capital investment in health care, life science and bio-tech, Christine went on to Berkeley to get her credential to teach ESL classes and other life skills to help the women thrive in American culture. In 2011, Christine started with a handful of students and now the program has grown to 30 students. Initially isolated, the women now support each other as they maneuver their way around San Francisco and enjoy their time together in the class and socially.

The program is unique due to the commitment and passion of Christine as well as the students. Chinatown CDC offers supervised free childcare for the toddlers and babies in our newly renovated Toddler Room; provides materials and dictionaries at no cost to the students; and we take the women on field trips outside the Tenderloin neighborhood to learn more about community resources. The ESL classes are impactful – 25 women are enrolled at San Francisco City College, five have gotten their driver’s license; and another five women became U.S citizens.

Christine’s classes are structured according to the needs of the students and combine workbooks, newspapers, magazines, and internet sources. They are thematic and include the four language skills: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. The women learn about health care, nutrition, shopping, public transportation, and personal safety as part of the class. Students are assessed on their progress regularly. As their language skills grow, the women learn about various community issues. Many have attended parent-teacher conferences and School Board Meetings to advocate for Arabic language instruction in San Francisco schools!

Rachel Chen, Resident Services Supervisor says, “Christine is a dedicated and devoted teacher who teaches from the heart. She inspires the women and empowers them to succeed and to improve the quality of life for themselves and their families. Many students now speak and write English; make better life choices; and participate in community life. We are very fortunate to have Christine who gives so much of herself and time to help the women.”


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