Celebrating 20 Years

Welcoming the Stranger is 20 years old! On February 1, 1999, our founder, Sturgis Poorman, began an ESL class to support immigrants in Lower Bucks County. He felt a calling to help welcome the stranger in a new land. The one class quickly grew into several classes that encompassed ESL (English as a Second Language), Computer Skills, and Citizenship Preparation. 


What began as a program of academic classes quickly developed into much more than that: they became a global community of people who supported and learned from one another. Sturgis passed away this past fall, but his words live on. In 2009, he wrote, “Classes have become places where helpers and students help each other and learn from each other but also where friendships develop. Not just native born Americans helping immigrants but immigrants helping each other, too. We are all givers and all receivers.” 

Today, twenty years later, over 4,000 different people from 104 different countries have been served by Welcoming the Stranger.  Fifteen to twenty classes are offered each term, in about ten different neighborhoods throughout Bucks, Montgomery, and Hunterdon Counties. People have learned the skills they need to survive in a new land, to become self sufficient, and to become productive members of their communities. Beyond teaching academic and survival English skills, Welcoming the Stranger has created a family that lives up to it’s namesake, the Biblical passage Matthew 25:35, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Our student Elda from Albania says, “I like to come at ESL class, because is a positive environment, with good people, wealthy with human dignity, who help others with kindness and generosity. The other reason is that it helps practice English.”

Immigrants often tell us that they feel stunted and frustrated when they first come to the country; after all, they are competent, intelligent people who just do not know the language or culture yet. Learn about the journey of one of our students, Patricia, who began with Welcoming the Stranger as a student, helped us a volunteer, and is now our part time Administrative Assistant, fielding phone calls and emails from dozens of students each week and helping us to build capacity as our student enrollment continues to dramatically increase. 


We challenge you! 

Want to have even more of an impact? Join our 20/20 Fundraising team!  

In honor of our 20thbirthday, we challenge 20 of you (more are welcome!) to ask 20 of your friends for “microdonations” for Welcoming the Stranger through the month of February!  

Your goal: 

We are seeking 20 people to sign up to each ask 20 of your friends to donate a microdonation (a small amount) to benefit WTS. 

We understand that not everyone is able to afford a large donation, but many people donating $5, $10, or $20 at a time can make a huge impact. 

If 20 of your friends donate at least $10 each, you would raise $200 (20x10=200). 

If all 20 of us can each raise $200, then that equals $4,000, which covers the cost of one class for half a term! This initiative also spreads the word about our work to a greater audience, reaching those who may need our services as well as those who may want to support us. Can you help us make new friends for our 20th birthday? 

But I’m not a fundraiser, you might think! How do I go about participating in this challenge? There are several simple ways you can participate. You can make a Facebook fundraiser (we will send you instructions), or you can send an email out to your friends (we will send you a template). 

If you would like to participate in this challenge, or are curious about learning more, please sign up HERE:


Check back to this page throughout the month of February (and the rest of the year!) for more memories, features, and ways to get involved in our birthday celebration!


20th Anniversary Classroom Spotlights


Doylestown ESL class spotlight

Boy Scouts and Doylestown teachers joined Welcoming the Stranger students and families from Salem UCC to share fun at the local branch of the public library. They played bingo and happily received library cards to enable them and their children to borrow books and all the things available in our amazing Bucks County libraries. The library organizes tours and provides rooms for activities and programs. The scouts also learned some Spanish while they interacted and helped the ESL students become familiar with the library.

A student from Guatemala who was there with his two daughters said, “The library was nice. I learned to play BINGO with the little guys.” 

Students in the Doylestown ESL class enjoyed learning about ways to get involved in their local community and get their children involved as well. Feeling like a part of the community and knowing how to utilize resources is an important part of establishing life in a new country. 

Morrisville Conversation Class


On  February 14, the students in the Morrisville Conversation Class learned about the history of Valentine’s Day as well as the history of Welcoming the Stranger. We had fun with the heteronyms of the day, “The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert,” and discussed “pneumonic devices” to help us remember things like spelling details. Dessert has two s’s because we like desserts, and we want an extra! We practiced idioms related to Valentine’s Day. For example, we learned “his heart is in the right place,” and “she wears her heart on her sleeve.” In our small groups, we discussed how Valentine’s Day is celebrated in their countries of origin. We were surprised to learn that the equivalent of Valentine’s Day is celebrated on June 12th in Brazil. We also discussed “What Welcoming the Stranger” means to me. We summarized by writing phrases on a Valentine for Welcoming the Stranger. And we completed the day with a little Valentine’s celebration. Everyone was “feeling the love” by the end of our class.

Volunteer Teacher Wins Bucks County YWCA #Girlpower Award

Nowadays there are many fictional characters that exemplify girl power; they are self-aware, independent, decisive, balanced,  and responsible, advocating for themselves and others.  We, however, do not need to look very far to find a real life young woman that embodies these traits.  Her name is Melanie Nolan.

She is a senior at Pennsbury High School, and for the past two years, she has volunteered for Welcoming the Stranger as an ESL (English as a Second Language) tutor in our Levittown and Morrisville evening classes.  Melanie has demonstrated that she is a natural teacher from the start.  She is proficient in speaking and writing English, a good listener, and adept at explaining things in more than one way.  She frequently enhances her instructional materials by creating entertaining doodles on the board.  On Monday and Wednesday nights Melanie can be seen smiling, laughing, speaking, and intently listening to adult students from all over the world; the majority are two and three times her age.  She is consistently calm, patient, respectful, empathetic, and understanding to those she tutors,  creating a welcoming learning community where students can be comfortable, confident, and successful.

During Welcoming the Stranger’s 20th year of service, we are absolutely delighted and proud to share that Melanie Nolan’s service to the community and her embodiment of girl power is being recognized by the Bucks County YWCA; she is the recipient of this year’s #Girlpower Award and will be honored at the 28th Annual Women Who Make Difference Awards Dinner on May 16.  This Welcoming the Stranger volunteer is truly dedicated to making a difference in her community, and we eagerly anticipate her future endeavors. 

Melanie Headshot

Bensalem Citizenship Class

Students in the Bensalem Citizenship Class were recently studying the legislative branch of the U.S. Government.


The Southampton Friends Meetinghouse Tuesday ESL Class

Students and teachers celebrated WTS’s 20th Anniversary with a little party and made a card for WTS that included pictures, some of which the students brought in from their countries of origin, and best wishes written by all. 


A message to WTS teachers from a student in the Southampton Friends Meeting Tuesday Class…

Dear all teachers of WTS, 

My name is Shilin, and I am 76 years old this year. I am from CHINA. 

I am very lucky to attend the English class supported by WTS (Welcome The Stranger). Thank you very much for all teachers' hard work. 

In two months of learning , I learned a lot. Before I attended this class, I didn't dare to talk to other people, and now I 'm not afraid of talking. However, because my listening is very poor and the English words that I know are very few, so there are many difficulties in learning. I will try to improve my listening ability. In the future I will also try my best and study very hard in learning English well. 

Thanks all teachers and especially thanks teacher Becky for her tremendous help and very patient teaching.  

Best regards,  

Your student, 

Shilin Rao 



Charlie Moody is a student in the WTS Computer Class taught by Jean Campallone.

Charles has written about himself and about his experience in the class.

From Charlie E Moody…

I contacted Welcoming The Stranger Computer Classes in July 0f 2018, so I could enroll in September 2018. My knowledge of Microsoft Office Suite was very limited. My intentions are to get my Master’s degree in Religion. I am attending Classes on Monday 10:00A.M. to noon at the Presbyterian Church in Warminster, What a fantastic computer teacher named Jean, very, very patient, knowledgeable no matter the age (old school) as well as milleniums. When I completed and received my Bachelors’ Diploma in Educational Ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention School in religion I did all my lessons in Long hand. My age is eighty-three.


Spotlight on our Program Coordinator, Lynn Paff-Connor

By Sage Burdge

Lynn Paff-Connor (far right) with students and teachers

Lynn Paff-Connor (far right) with students and teachers

As part of Welcoming the Stranger’s 20th anniversary, we are celebrating our staff members and volunteers that have made our work possible over the years.  Long-standing staff member and volunteer, Lynn Paff-Connor, has been bringing her earnestness and receptive approach to WTS since 2013.  After working with ESL speakers in her training and development positions, Lynn found she really enjoyed this work and wished to connect with even more ESL learners.  When she discovered WTS online, they welcomed her with open arms and she began her position as a volunteer teacher.  Lynn was immediately hooked on the work Welcoming the Stranger was doing with immigrant and refugee communities in Bucks county.  Her enthusiasm quickly secured her a place on the WTS staff team as program coordinator.  Her love for her students has only grown as she reflects on her work over the years.     

Lynn’s ESL classes have never been a one-way street. She marvels at all the things she’s learned from her students over the years, “I should be paying these people for what they teach me.”  One of her favorite parts of her job is experiencing the different customs and cultures that her students bring into the classroom.  She also feels a sense of pride for her students as they overcome cultural barriers and make personal connections with their classmates.  Their support of one another through difficult times or instances of discrimination creates a sense of camaraderie that is so crucial within this community.

The profound impact becoming a volunteer with WTS has left on Lynn’s life makes her encourage others to take up a similar role. While Lynn found her place in the classroom, volunteer roles aren’t just limited to ESL teaching. “Volunteers come in all shapes and sizes for Welcoming the Stranger,” one only needs the desire to support our work and mission.  The same could be said for immigrants and refugees in the US.  It’s extremely important to Lynn that people unfamiliar with these communities recognize the diversity within them and the unique barriers they face establishing lives in a new country.  The determination they exhibit in furthering their education with Welcoming the Stranger leaves her hopeful for a more accepting and diverse place for future generations.  “People feel comfortable with what we have in common, but we learn from diversity.”

Spotlight on WTS Board Secretary, Ginny Lavanish

By Oscar Mailman

As we celebrate the 20 year anniversary of Welcoming the Stranger, it is the perfect time to learn more about one of the organization’s driving forces. Ginny Lavanish has been an integral part of Welcoming the Stranger as a Board Secretary since 1998. Since her affiliation with the organization, she has done much to propel it further to reach new heights. She worked closely with Sturgis Poorman himself, the founder of WTS, a man with a vision for immigrants to learn English, computer skills, and about citizenship. Ginny has been an enthusiastic supporter of Mr. Poorman’s goals since the establishment of Welcoming the Stranger, and remains one today. Today we look at what makes her such an important part of the WTS team, her favorite part of working towards the mission, and how she believes the community can help WTS achieve their goals.  

Ginny was kind enough to respond to some questions about her experience working at WTS:

Ginny at the WTS annual International Dinner

Ginny at the WTS annual International Dinner

How did you originally get involved with Welcoming the Stranger?

I got involved with WTS in 1998 when Sturgis Poorman proposed the idea of a ministry to the many immigrants in Bucks County.  He had the idea that they needed computer skills, ESL and eventually citizenship training to better assimilate into their communities. He approached Lower Bucks Center for Church and Community – the only ecumenical organization in the Philadelphia are – in search of a sponsor.  LBCCC, founded in 1988 by Rev. Al Krass and his wife, Susan, planned many programs each year to bring clergy and lay people together. i.e. choir concerts, symposiums on current issues like the death penalty, racism, and a tools for ministry program to welcome new pastors to the area.  I was involved since 1989 and was many times president, and secretary of the organization over the years.

Sturgis and Rev. Al were friends, and each espoused the idea for the ministry.  It was presented to the board of LBCCC in 1998 and we all agreed it was a mission we wanted to support.

A large question was money.  LBCCC’s budget was small, about $4000, all that was needed for our programs.  WTS would require more funds. So we set out to spread the word making speeches at civic groups, churches and publicizing the beginning of the classes in 1999.  For many years our financial situation was precarious, and Sturgis waited for his salary a few times until funds came in. We had help from a professional fund raiser to broaden our contacts and pursue grants.  In 2009 WTS broke away from LBCCC and became its own entity with its own 501 C3 status. I chose to join with WTS and have been its secretary ever since.

What are your responsibilities as a Board Secretary?

My responsibilities as board secretary besides recording the minutes of the meetings have been to help with fund raising and support the program.  I have also been involved in interviewing applicants for our few paid positions. 

How has the organization changed since you became a part of it?

The organization has mainly changed since its beginning because of its growth – both in numbers of students and volunteers.  The mission, however, has not changed. Our director, Meg Eubank, has expanded its scope, brought in new and creative ideas, made communication much more efficient, and learned how to successfully pursue grants.  In the beginning, we were very anxious in the lean years.

I, personally, think the country’s current immigration crisis has brought more publicity to our organization, as well.

We have also discovered that each class of immigrants becomes its own small United Nations andthey function as their own little community of caring people – definitely a positive extra.

What was your background experience going into WTS?

My background before going into WTS was my involvement in LBCCC, my Christian faith and my experience as a high school English teacher.

What is your favorite thing about working at WTS?

Hearing the heartwarming stories from the students about the friendships they’ve made, the obstacles they’ve conquered and their gratitude to WTS.

What is your best memory of working for WTS?

I have many, but the best thing I can think of is Meg Eubank and her creative passion for the organization.

Any success stories that stand out to you?

None particularly -  Perhaps successful International Dinners, the campaign for funds when webroke out on our own, and, of course, the recent award we won, and its wonderful publicity.

What do you think Sturgis Poorman’s intention was in creating WTS and has that dream been accomplished?

To help the many thousands of immigrants in Bucks county assimilate into their communities.

What are some specific ways the community can help WTS in achieving their mission?

Regular donations and volunteering would help.  Publicity in the media to promote the organization.   


In the past year the Southampton Citizenship class has welcomed students from seven different countries: Ukraine, Russia, China, Korea, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Georgia.  We are very proud of the six members of our group who have passed the citizenship test and are now ready to vote in the next election! From left to right: Tatanya, Tamara, Vasyl, Ella & Nataliya  (Yulia is not pictured here.)


Welcoming the Stranger is honored to be a winner of the national Renewal Awards from Allstate and The Atlantic!


Thank you to the Renewal Awards for honoring Welcoming the Stranger’s work!

After nearly half a century of decline, the Philadelphia region has seen a population resurgence thanks in large part to immigrants. With support from organizations like the nonprofit Welcoming the Stranger, these new residents are finding the support they need to build a new life and help their community thrive.