BRADENTON -- When Victor Diaz moved to the United States from Colombia with his wife 14 years ago, neither of them could speak English, but they were determined to learn.
Through classes at Project Light, a nonprofit English language school, the 89-year-old can now speak English. While in his second level of English classes at the literacy center, 1104 14th St. W., Bradenton, Diaz comes every day just to practice his conversational English because, he says, it's the best way to learn.
"I don't have people to practice with at home," Diaz said. "I come here every day to learn. I like coming here. It's an opportunity for me to practice. I need to practice every day."
On Monday, Diaz, along with about 15 other people, took part in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, organizing new libraries and materials at Project Light and labeling books for check out. Project Light received a $2,000 Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service grant from Occupy Bradenton, which was a recipient of a grant from State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota.
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With the grant, Project Light was able to set up two libraries -- one for teacher resources and the second for reading and practice materials for the students. There are also books to prepare for GED and citizenship exams.
Now students such as Diaz will be able to take books home to continue practicing outside of class.
"It will also encourage them to read outside of the classroom and read with children," said Chris MacCormack, Project Light program director. "We are going to encourage them to sit down and read with children. I really hope they are going to use these libraries."
Project Light, which was started by Sister Nora Brick and Ann and Ed Griffin, has been in operation for more than 20 years. The students, who range in age from 18 to 89, come to class each week to improve their English speaking, reading and writing skills. The nonprofit's mission is to "empower adult speakers of other languages to participate more actively in our community through English Language Proficiency," according to a fact sheet.
Erick Romero, 16, and his brother Edward Romero, 14, spent the morning volunteering at Project Light. The brothers, who plan to go to college, were gathering community service hours that they could include on their applications for college scholarships. Even though, neither was sure yet where they want to go to college, the Manatee High School students were focused on their goals to further their education.
They spent the morning trimming bushes, moving bookshelves and helping to organize the library for Project Light before heading out to the Manatee County Fair in the afternoon.
As the afternoon came to a close Monday, MacCormack said she was "very pleased with the volunteers today that we got to help."
"It was a very good experience for us to be here and be part of this," she said.
Toni Whitt contributed to this story.
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.