It’s only natural for a teacher to wonder how her students use their knowledge in the real world, or what becomes of them after graduation. English instructor Lisa Garrone doesn’t have to wonder too hard. She can often just pop across the street to Village Market.

“Village Market is an institution in Roslindale,” Garrone said. “And for many immigrants here, it provides that first opportunity to get a job to support their families. It’s very important for their survival.”

A family-run grocery store in the heart of Roslindale, Village Market has the feel of both a village mainstay and a global village. Because many of the store’s employees are migrants, a fertile relationship has grown between the store and the ABCD ESOL Program at South Side, both located on Corinth Street. Students benefit from jobs, employees benefit from more English, and both organizations thrive.

“In a highly competitive retail space, there aren’t many independent [stores] anymore. They haven’t been able to survive with the likes of Walmart and Amazon,” said Jim McInnis, general manager and co-owner of Village Market. “But we’ve been here since 1997. One of the reasons we’ve been here for so long is because we’re involved in the community.”

ABCD South Side stands on Corinth Street in Roslindale, catercorner from Village Market.

When ABCD South Side applied for state funding, Village Market was there to advocate for the program’s value to the community. That value, from the store’s perspective, includes the preparation immigrants receive to fill needed customer service jobs.

“Their work ethic is extremely good,” McInnis said. “They learn quickly with the volume of customers coming in, speaking with them. I can’t say enough about their attitude and what they bring to our business.”

When Mbaresa Cela began her job as a cashier at Village Market in January 2018, she thought it was a dream. In her native Albania, jobs were so scarce, she couldn’t get one at all. Cela, her daughter, and her parents-in-law all relied on her husband’s income of $400 per month. They barely scraped by.

But what started as her dream job at Village Market turned into so much more. Soon, Cela was promoted to handling money orders, and now she closes the store two nights a week. Her English classes at ABCD South Side made those promotions, and the raises that came with them, possible.

“It was very hard for me before, with no school. Customers, they asked me something, I think, ‘Oh my god, what is she saying to me?’” Cela said. “Now I repeat what I’m learning in class with the customers at Village Market.”

The store makes it possible for Cela and other employees to attend the classes they need.

Mbaresa Cela at Village Market in Roslindale, where she works.

“We’re very flexible here,” McInnis said. “Other team members are able to move and groove. The attitude is: Let’s make it work.”

Lisa Garrone said that level of understanding is rare among employers – yet crucial for students.

“Many times, a student’s employer will say, ‘You want the job? You work when you’re scheduled,’” she said. “When we lose a student from the program, it’s typically because of a scheduling conflict at work.”

While the cooperation between Village Market and ABCD South Side benefits both, the greatest good is felt by immigrant families themselves. Cela and her husband are now able to purchase the things that they need, put away money for the future, and give their daughter a better life.

“Here, I can buy a lot of things for my daughter,” Cela said. “She’s five years old. She likes shoes, dresses. My daughter asks me, ‘Can you buy this for me?’ I feel something in my heart.”

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