St Mark’s Community Education Program (SMCEP) owes its existence to Father Dan Finn. He fervently believed everyone, regardless of where they came from, should be empowered to participate fully in American society. As pastor of St Mark’s Church, he put this belief into action.
St. Mark Community Education Program began in 1993 in response to a growing number of immigrants moving into the St Mark’s parish. A group of parishioners started informal English conversation groups. Several years later, in an effort to increase voter participation in the parish that for many years had the highest vote turnout of any precinct in Boston, St. Mark's undertook an aggressive voter registration drive. The drive successfully registered over 275 residents, but found a number of residents who were not yet citizens.
As a result, in 2001, the parish in partnership with the Irish Immigration Center, (now Rian Immigrant Center) launched a citizenship campaign. A number of workshops were held on the naturalization process. Volunteers were trained to assist people in the application process and prepare applicants for interviews through a mix of civics classes, English classes and one to one tutoring.
In 2003, the program received $10,000 from English for New Bostonians which enabled the parish to begin the process of developing a formal English program with paid staff. In 2005, SMCEP was born when the parish spun out the program to become its own 501c3.
All this effort culminated in the St Mark’s area ESOL program, that except for a coordinator, was run entirely by a group of 17 volunteers. The program offered two ESOL classes, English for Citizenship class and one to one tutoring, as well as continued citizenship workshops.
Our current program still reflects the values of its original founders. We remain committed to empowering immigrants to be successful members of American society. With our move to online, we have extended our reach beyond the St Mark’s neighborhood in Dorchester to a potentially global audience.
While the majority of our students are from Vietnam, we have helped others from Haiti, Cape Verde, Dominican Republic, China, Hong Kong, El Salvador, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Bangladesh, the Ivory Coast, Iran and Russia. Over the last 20 years, we have continued to offer our two signature programs, ESOL and citizenship in some form or another.
Having volunteers has enabled us to maintain and grow the program. In many ways our current program reflects the 2000-2003 period, particularly our current citizenship program and the new addition Pathways to Citizenship.