Kowality ESL Classes

By Mary Lane

“For more than 90 years, the name Kowalski has been bringing people together,” the Hamtramck-based sausage distributor’s website proudly declares. The almost century old landmark is doing a lot more that just bringing together customers, it’s also welcoming its employees to this country. With a workforce of largely Polish immigrants, Kowalski is one of the few employers to provide English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for its workers.

Agnes and Zygmund Kowalski emigrated from Poland to America at the turn of the 20th century and founded Kowalski Companies in 1920, beginning as a small grocery story on Chene Street in Detroit, Michigan. The Kowalski’s dreamt of bringing the taste of their homeland to the land they chose to call home, and the company has since grown. Kowalski Companies now employs over 100 workers making over 55 varieties of sausage.

The company is proud to have not forgotten its history as an immigrant owned and operated business. Nicci Kushner, the Human Resources Coordinator at Kowalski, suggested the ESL program in May, and is “…excited about how receptive employees have been. People told me they didn’t have the time or money to learn English before.”

Krystyna immigrated from Poland to the Detroit-area seventeen years ago, and has worked at Kowalski for 9 years. Starting each day at 5:30, and ending at 2:15 means that there is little time to learn English, says Krystyna, “I don’t have too many words.” However, since May, Krystyna has worked her regular shift, walked to the lunchroom and spent two hours with her fellow employees from Bosnia, Albania, Poland and Mexico (being paid for learning!). Usually, about 10 students from Kowalski Companies and Home Style Foods (a subsidiary salad company of Kowalski) crowd around ESL teacher, Karim Mohamed, and his whiteboard. Says Karim, “not speaking English can really limit their opportunities,” but in the last 10 weeks, he has already seen improvement.

Generally, ESL classes are provided by social service agencies, but this program is run the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit.  The class reveals a shifting understanding of immigrants as valuable assets for economic growth. Immigrant income has contributed $1.5 billion to the Michigan economy alone.   For a printable list of English as Second Language Classes, check out Resources on The Welcome Mat Detroit’s website.

Immigration is necessary for a thriving Michigan economy, and the work of Kowalski to create a more welcoming environment for immigrants aligns with Governor Rick Snyder’s push to make the state of Michigan the most immigrant friendly state in the nation.

                                   Karim, Walter, and Krystyna

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