Born and raised in Brazil, Carla Almeida arrived in the United States through a quirk of fate, but has managed to find her own family — and a purpose — at the Cherry Hill Public Library.
Trained in law and technical administration in her home country, Almeida first set foot in the U.S. after tracking down her boyfriend from school. She spent six months here, briefly returning to Brazil, before coming back and accepting his marriage proposal. The pair officially set down roots in 2012.
“Unlike other people, I didn’t come to the United States for the American dream,” Almeida noted. “I came to get back my college love.”
Though settled in one area of life, Almeida was totally unprepared for her new environment and unable to communicate in English. She found friendly faces at a local gym who taught her enough to get by, but found it wasn’t enough to properly navigate the wider world. Her initial attempts to take courses in English were unsuccessful, and it led to increasing isolation and loneliness.
Fast forward to 2018, when Almeida came to the Cherry Hill Public Library to inquire about English classes. Reference & Outreach Librarian Elby Wang was instrumental in getting her on the right track.
“She was very friendly and patient with me,” Almeida recalled. “I’ll never forget it; I cried in her arms because I couldn’t stand not being able to speak and understand English.”
Thanks to enrollment in an array of classes, as well as private sessions, Almeida became confident enough to hold conversations and express herself. She credits library staffers Audrianne Levene and Laura Colau for providing the most help.
Not satisfied with basic skills, Almeida soon set her sights on the brass ring: the U.S. citizenship test.
“She’s made our program outstanding because she’s hard-working,” Wang noted. “She’s stood out because she tried her best to enter as many classes as she could. She got into our citizenship class and prepared so well, had one-on-one help from the instructor.
“She used to be someone who just stayed in her apartment and felt lonely. But now she has a huge family here. We’re so happy for her.”
After rigorous practice and preparation, Almeida passed the test on July 2, with some of her tutors as well as her husband attending the citizenship ceremony.
“I studied a lot for this test and it was a big step for me, because it was great to be well received by my Cherry Hill community because I wanted to be a part of it,” she said. “Audrianne had me for lunch at her house with American flag displays to celebrate. I felt welcome.”
Almeida recently added another feather in her cap: graduation in late November with the inaugural class of the Cherry Hill Police Department’s nine-week Citizens Police Academy.
“It was wonderful, a dream for me. Lt. Keath Mahan and all the classes were amazing. I loved it,” she gushed.
Now tutors are working with Almeida for the next step: tackling business vocabulary, the next hurdle she needs to clear to find gainful employment. At this point, her written English is ahead of her spoken English.
“I love my community here; I love the library, because it supports me. When I came to this country, I did not speak English,” Almeida admitted. “With the help of Elby and my tutors, I was able to learn.
“I like it here because the U.S. is a country of law and has so many people I love — and things work.”
For more information on the library’s English as a Second Language programs, visit: https://chplnj.org/esl.