NEW BRITAIN - Ten years ago, Sister Virginia Bruen and the Dominican Sisters of Peace opened a nonprofit organization helping people of all ages to better understand the English language.
The Siena Learning Center, located at 29 Edson St., has helped hundreds of people from around the world speak fluent English.
Bruen, the director of the center, said 17 countries are represented at Siena. Learners speak many languages, with Polish the first language of roughly 70 percent.
The Siena Learning Center has also helped Syrian refugees and immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African nations.
Bruen recalled the first learner to come to Siena 10 years ago. She was an 81-year-old woman who spoke little English, but wanted to learn to speak the language more fluently to converse with her children and grandchildren.
The majority of learners at the Siena Learning Center are women, but the center is getting more and more men interested in learning more of the English language.
When the Siena Learning Center opened its doors in New Britain, there were 24 learners. Now, 10 years later, the center actively instructs 147 learners, with more on a waiting list, and has a total of 60 volunteers.
Bruen stated that Siena’s tutors are “generous in their donations,” whether it be time spent with the center or money.
Services are free of charge; however, the center always appreciates donations. They provide all books and supplies to their learners.
“One hour a week, learners get the undivided attention of their tutor teaching them English,” Bruen said.
The Siena Learning Center has two other locations, one in New Haven and the other in Columbus, Ohio. The sisters are always looking for more volunteers to help at the center.
By the point most learners understand basic English, they stay at the center to “develop their skills and fluency,” according to Bruen.
Bruen expressed how important the Dominican Sisters of Peace have been in the growth of the Siena Learning Center.
“They really are the ones who started this,” Bruen said. “They believe in us.”