MOORHEAD — When Lisa Arnold's duties as an English associate professor at North Dakota State University are finished on Friday, she doesn't take the weekend off to relax.
Instead, she continues helping others learn every weekend. Except they aren't college students, but adult immigrants mostly from Somalia, Iraq and the Congo, some of whom have had little education in their lives.
Arnold is one of three main volunteer teachers at the Afro American Development Association to New Americans in Moorhead that meets every Saturday and Sunday from 4 to 6 p.m.
Arnold, who moved to Moorhead after four years of teaching at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon, said she started working with Sudanese migrant workers there who were looking to improve their English as they sought better-paying jobs.
"I wanted to continue to do that when I moved here," said the Kansas City native who will be one of three recipients of the Moorhead Human Rights awards for this year on Monday night, Dec. 9, at the City Council meeting.
She started at the New American center the first year she moved here, and she said meeting all of the people that come to her classes is "worth it."
The immigrants have a wide range of the English language with some just learning the ABCs and others who can read paragraphs.
"It can be tricky," she said about teaching the classes.
However, the ones who come consistently she can see are making "real progress."
No matter who comes, she appreciates that at least they are "doing something in this world rather than just being at home and not talking to anyone."
"It makes them feel like more a part of the community" when they can learn some English and talk with others, she said.
One success story is a Somali woman she has befriended who is currently studying for her high school GED after learning English.
"I just helped her buy a car," she added.
Hukun Dubar, executive director of the Afro American Development Association to New Americans, said he admires Arnold for "sticking with us."
He said some volunteers "come and go," but he said Arnold is "always there and has never left us."
"She's part of our family, " Dubar said. "She's a totally amazing person."
Arnold also has assisted some metro area immigrants with their 100-question citizenship tests. The first step in the process is meeting with a government official who interviews the person and requires them to answer six of 10 questions on the test verbally before moving ahead.
She said most of the questions deal with civics, including how the government operates as well as geography.
Though she is not trained professionally for either teaching English as a second language or for citizenship tests, Arnold believes she is getting better at her instruction after four years of doing so.
When teaching, she said she tries to bring the immigrants' culture into the classes to better explain words and concepts. For example when teaching about food, she likes to use examples of the food they are used to eating in their previous countries such as rice and chicken.
While Arnold enjoys seeing the immigrants learn English and connect more with the community, the special part for her is also the connection to the adult students she teaches.
"I like being a part of their lives and making them feel welcome," she said. As someone not from the area, Arnold can relate to them in certain ways and also enjoys their company.
Although some of the adults are learning so they can seek jobs or move onto to get their GED or move on to college, she said some of them are older and aren't working anymore.
"They are just trying to do the best they can," she said.
Dubar added that many of those older immigrants think they can't learn English.
"But she has changed many minds," he said. "They end up learning English and become more of who they are."
If you go
What: Moorhead Human Rights Awards ceremony
Where and when: Moorhead City Council Chambers at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 9.
Who: In addition to Lisa Arnold who won in the education category, the other two winners are Haroon Hayder in the civic category and HOPE Inc. in the non-profit category. Hayder is an advocate for the Yazidi community in Moorhead and an advocate for human rights, justice and equity. HOPE Inc. helps children and adults with mobility challenges live active lives through adaptive sports and recreational activities. Bill and Adair Grommesh founded the organization and continue to work with the effort.