PODER Connects Work and Learning in Pilsen

Posted by  & filed under Featured LocationsNews & Events.

PODERlocated in Pilsen, is an English learning center currently serving almost 150 students. The center opened in 1997 to meet the needs of Chicago’s growing adult immigrant population, providing first language adult basic education as well as ESL blended with computer training. Unlike at many language academies, computer skills are integrated into all Poder programming, allowing students to develop more comprehensive work skills.

Still, what sets Poder apart in the city and nation is Oprima-1, a one-year-old social enterprise dreamed up by executive director Daniel Loftus. It began with a vexing problem: how to cut the dropout rate from Poder’s English program. Too often, Loftus said, students were forced to quit English classes because their work hours demanded it. He envisioned a strategy in which students could work on-site and still continue their classes at Poder. When Loftus began asking Poder partners and funders what their own companies needed, the response was unequivocal: bilingual customer service agents. With that in mind, Loftus found several strategic partners, including a call center in Wisconsin and a major cable company on the east coast. With that, Oprima-1 (“Press 1”) was born.

Upon completion of two months of English and computer classes, Poder students can apply for a job at Oprima-1, an on-site third party call center. Oprima-1 workers attend classes in the morning, followed by a six hour work shift for which they are paid $9-12/hour, based on internal success metrics. After a year in the work-study program, newly bilingual graduates are placed in permanent employment.

Though Loftus, a teacher by trade, has plans to double Oprima-1’s capacity over the next year, Poder Learning Center remains just that—a place that values learning and the promotion of human dignity through education before all else.