Orange County, UCF, Rosen Hotels & Resorts join forces to offer free ESOL classes

Orange County leaders are working with UCF Global and Rosen Hotels & Resorts to provide free English classes to associates. 

The students are native Spanish and Haitian-Creole speakers. 

"By the end of the course, you have to say be quiet because they want to talk, talk, talk," said Gloria Palacio, Instructor for the EPIC Program with UCF. 

But, the class is not just for the love of learning. For many, it's a necessity. 

"A lot of the folks are highly skilled in their home community," said Renuka Sastri, Orange County's I-Drive Community Redevelopment Act Advisory Group. "English is the only barrier to income and more opportunities." 

Renuka Sastri is part of Orange County's advisory group that helped launch this English course. She points to students like Karen Daza where exponential growth is limited by language. 

"I am a psychologist in Columbia. Only painting here," said Karen Daza, Associate Rosen Hotels & Resorts. "To work front desk, I need to learn here." 

Students attend eight-week courses where they start with the basics and work up. 

"In the hotel industry, digital literacy is a part of that. Writing an email - responding to an email," said Jennifer Haddad, UCF Global. 

The courses are free, offered during their workday, and pay isn't cut to go — removing another barrier. 

"Sometimes she has other obligations outside of work because it's complicated. Plus the cost for classes outside are expensive," said Daza through a translator. 

And when workers can grow, open positions are filled. 

"Travel, conventions, conferences coming back in a big way in 2023," said Sastri. "Severe lack of shortage at the entry and up the ladder." 

"We're no different than anyone else. Everyone is looking to hire," said Robert Hubler, Rosen Hotel and Resorts. 

When positions are filled, the economy keeps churning. 

"Hoping this media coverage will result in more employers to say this is the type of programs we want to work," said Sastri. 

The pilot program runs through the summer and there are close to 75 students enrolled. After the programs ends - the county will work with UCF to look at data on how effective the course was to make plans for the future.