By Ukee Washington
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Thousands of people immigrate to the United States every year. Elderly immigrants who don’t speak English can find themselves lonely in a new country. Now there’s a national effort to help, born in the city of brotherly love.
At the Coffee Cup Senior Center in Center City, class is in. Volunteers such as Elba Baldinger teach English to immigrants from China.
“Today we’re doing ‘going to the airport,'” Baldinger explained.
Philip Lai, director of the senior center, said, “I believe these students also learn a lot from the seniors.”
This is just one part of Project SHINE (Students Helping in the Naturalization of Elders), a Temple program that matches immigrants with American volunteers to ease their transition to a new culture.
The volunteers don’t just teach the elders; the elders teach the volunteers. Liu Qing Qing, 85, leads a tai chi sword lesson.
Patience Lehrman, who herself grew up in Cameroon and now is an American citizen, is director of Project SHINE. She says many older immigrants who join their families in the United States end up invisible.
“Often times they’re dealing with a lot of isolation, a lot of loneliness, and a lot of depression,” Lehrman said.
Volunteer Eric Cheng said it happened to his grandparents. “They had trouble adjusting to not only the English language but the American culture,” Cheng said.
Last month, Patience Lehrman received the nation’s second highest civilian award, the Presidential Citizens Medal, for her work with Project SHINE and the people it helps: “Having an opportunity to kind of form bridges, to pass that on to the young generation, and to feel valuable again,” Lehrman said.
To find out more, you can visit their website at http://www.projectshine.org.