Awesome Foundation Grant Award Winner: Afro American Development Association

Written by: Brandi Malarkey

Participating in a community where you don’t know the local language is a challenge most people will never face. For first-generation immigrants and refugees, however, it can be a daily struggle.

When Cani Adan relocated from Somalia to Fargo in 2015 and obtained a job as an Employment Specialist with the Afro-American Development Association (AADA), an organization founded to help immigrants and refugees find jobs, adjust to American culture and improve themselves through education and opportunity, he quickly learned that those with limited English were at a distinct disadvantage in finding employment.

“Most of the immigrant community who came to the state came here to work, but without speaking English it was a challenge. I could help them with the applications, but when the jobs called them, they’d have to hand the phone to a family member to understand what was said. The HR person would understand they couldn’t speak English, say they would call back, but wouldn’t. I would go to the companies with hundreds of people with the ability to do the jobs they were looking for, but I found I was only able to find jobs for those who could speak English. Coming from Somalia, Tanzania, Kenya, Iran, and Iraq, there were many who could not. It was a big challenge for the community. So we came up with the idea of starting English classes, where they can come and learn the basic English they need to go to work.”

With the help of volunteers from NDSU, Concordia, Moorhead Public Schools and the community, the AADA launched the English Language Learning Program. Starting with about five students, which met in Cani’s home where he served Somali tea to both teachers and students, the program has now grown to 48 current students. With the increased number of students, the group now meets in a larger space in Moorhead— although Somali tea is still served. “No tea, no class,” Cani laughed.

“My volunteers are awesome people,” Cani said. “Some of them have volunteered for over five years, to do class preparations, all without pay. Even throughout the pandemic, [volunteers still worked] online.”

While many of their volunteers are professors, teachers, students or members of the immigrant community who have also relocated to the area and want to help others benefit the same way they have, volunteers don’t need to be teachers or former non-English speakers. Anyone interested in helping the community is welcome.

The success of the program is clearly visible in the concrete results.

“People who in 2015 couldn’t work or speak English, are doing both today. The person who couldn’t answer the phone can now talk to HR on the phone by themselves, write emails and read messages from the city, social services and schools. Parents are now able to talk to their kids’ teachers, where they couldn’t before. That’s how I know this class is very important,” Cani said.

With increased success and class size, however, comes an increased level of complication. The larger class sizes require more space, additional teaching supplies, and extra tables and chairs, for added safety in COVID times, masks and cleaning supplies are also needed. This places a new financial burden on a successful program that has run for five years on zero budget.

To attempt to address their new financial needs, the group is requesting donations and exploring grant options. To start what will hopefully be a successful money-raising campaign, the AADA’s English Language Learning Program was selected as one of the two November grantees by the Cass Clay chapter of the Awesome Foundation. The $1000 gift will go to purchasing books to be used by class participants and to be checked out for home use when needed.

While this is only a small first step toward addressing their needs, the organization is hopeful about connecting with resources to help them continue their work helping members not only develop their conversational and reading skills, and to connect them with local community members through their volunteers.

Community members who would like to support this initiative (or any of the programs offered through AADA) are welcome to join the group of enthusiastic volunteers, or to make a donation through the Afro-American Development Association website,

The Afro-American Development Association was founded in 2014. Today, the AADA supports approximately 520 individuals annually (averaging an 8% annual growth).

The Cass Clay chapter of the Awesome Foundation awards a $1,000 gift each month for awesome ideas of all sorts. Grant recipients do not need to be associated with a non-profit. Applications can be made at cassclay

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