Southwest Detroit literacy center founded at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish adapts to pandemic, continues to serve families in need
DETROIT — Since 2015, a southwest Detroit literacy program has provided a refuge and a lifeline for non-native English speakers to pursue their dreams of higher education.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s taken on an even larger role as Spanish-speaking families and children adjust to remote learning in an environment that can make studying a challenge.
La Casa Guadalupana (Guadalupana House) began in 2014 as an outgrowth to a tutoring and job training ministry begun by Sr. Marie Benzing, CSJ, and Fr. Marie-Elie Haby at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. The ministry originally taught first- through eighth graders, but the program was later expanded to include family literacy programs.
Today, La Casa Guadalupana offers elementary and adult basic education, high school and GED exam preparation, after-school tutoring, career and technology training, and English as a second language (ESL) courses for adults.
Dr. Lourdes Torres Monaghan, executive director and manager of La Casa Guadalupana, said the center also offers morning babysitting for those with young children, which is important for parents with no child-care options.
“This strategy helps our community to fight for social change for the Latino community that values family,” Torres Monaghan told Detroit Catholic en Espanol for this story, which was translated into English.
Torres Monaghan said this service prevents student moms from being distracted by worry or anguish of not knowing where and with whom to leave their children.
For many, La Casa Guadalupana offers a low-cost option in a time when pursuing further education is complicated and expensive — sometimes to the point of inaccessibility. The center’s teachers and tutors also offer flexible schedules for working parents.
Since 2016, more than 40 adults have received their high school diplomas, approximately 70 adults have obtained a GED, and around 150 students have completed English classes. In 2019, La Casa Guadalupana served 179 people, including stay-at-home mothers and those who could not previously work because of literacy barriers. Classes also have been offered remotely during the pandemic.
Originally from Jalisco, Mexico, Celina Díaz Morales did not finish elementary school. After moving to Detroit, she entered La Casa Guadalupana in 2019, and has since graduated from primary and secondary school. She’s taking classes to earn her GED equivalent to high school, and hopes to graduate soon.
La Casa Guadalupana has completely changed her life, Díaz Morales said.
"In La Casa Guadalupana, the teachers are very friendly,” she said. “They have very well-trained teachers, they are very patient with the students. I feel more confident in myself by achieving what as a child I could not achieve. Now, with effort and sacrifice, I have been able.”
Díaz Morales plans to continue her education after she graduates.
“My passion is photography, and I want to go to university to study photography at a professional level,” she said. "If you want, you can. I am very grateful to La Casa Guadalupana. There they will help you fulfill your dreams.”
Before and after the pandemic
Before the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, La Casa Guadalupana offered all of its classes face-to-face in the mornings and evenings.
The bustle of students shuffling back and forth between classes — each with five to 15 students — was a daily occurance, with students helping one another on homework, classes and discussions. Students attended complementary lectures and workshops on financial aid, health and other topics.
Today, classes are held online, but the teacher-to-student ratio is smaller, with no more than 10 students per class, each equipped with Chromebooks and laptops students can use either at La Casa Guadalupana or at home. Students have adapted their activities to the virtual world, from registration and consulting to conferences and all kinds of communications.
The center isn’t only focused on helping students academically, though.
Since the start of the pandemic, La Casa Guadalupana has offered a food pantry and other forms of aid to help families facing food insecurity or trouble with housing, utility payments and resources — all in Spanish.
All this titanic work would not be understood without divine patronage and providence, Torres Monaghan explains, which is why the center relies on its benefactors — including two religious congregations — to continue its work.
"A large part of our funds comes from religious organizations such as the Sisters of St. Joseph of Nazareth and the Racine Dominican Sisters,” Torres Monaghan said. “Fortunately, we received funds and materials from the Mexican Consulate in Detroit. We have two fundraisers a year, and our community here in Detroit and our virtual Hispanic friends are always very generous. Like every other nonprofit organization, we spend a lot of time competing for scholarships and asking for help from the state and the city.”
The change from face-to-face to virtual learning has been expensive, Torres Monaghan said, so it’s important that the support continues.
"Our campaign to raise funds this fall was called ‘Against All Odds’ because that's what the situation looked like when the school year began in September 2020,” she said. “We needed to find and provide all the technological services, such as Wi-Fi, computers, applications and virtual materials so that our students could continue their education.”
Torres Monaghan added more students than expected committed to continuing their studies this fall, which led to a graduation ceremony for 12 students in December.
Teresa Martínez Guzmán, who was born in the state of Puebla in Mexico, completed her high school education with La Casa Guadalupana and graduated with her GED.
“I like La Casa Guadalupana because the teachers are all very kind as well as the principal,” Martínez Guzmán said. “They are all very kind people, and that encourages you to go to school. If you need something, they try to help you. It is as if it were my second home. You meet people from other places in other countries, and everyone is treated with respect.”
La Casa Guadalupana
For more information about La Casa Guadalupana, or to support its ministry, visit lcgdetroit.org search for La Casa Guadalupana on Instagram or Facebook in English and Spanish.
This story was originally reported for Detroit Catholic en Espanol, and has been translated into English.