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New aspects to include  financial literacy,  community service

[caption id="attachment_18405" align="alignleft" width="324" caption="A number of people from Filtration Group, North America's largest privately held air filter manufacturer, were in the literacy program."][/caption]

NORTH BAY – The Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce is adding several new aspects to its English language learning program.

The Worksite Held Employee English Learning, or WHEEL, program put on by the chamber has traditionally involved three components in addition to the English classes.

The Literacy Fiesta reaches parents by giving them literacy information and a workbook with activities to do with their children. The Family Literacy Parent Workshop Series teaches parents techniques of reading and book sharing with their children. And the Books to Work Project offers a book exchange program. English language learners with children ages 0-5 receive a bag of books on a biweekly basis.

A financial literacy and a community service program are being added to the program.

Redwood Credit Union has been discussing the possibility of involvement in WHEEL's financial literacy program. The credit union already does financial literacy programs for high school age students. The first such program was last summer, and according to president and chief executive officer Brett Martinez, it was so successful it is doing not only another summer program but one in the spring as well.

“We are looking at the proposal from the chamber about being involved in the WHEEL program,” he said.

WHEEL has also added community service opportunities for participants. Last Thanksgiving, NBC and the Redwood Empire Food Bank partnered for a food drive.

A number of people from Filtration Group, North America’s largest privately held air filter manufacturer, participated in the drive.  About half of the 60 were in the literacy program.

Alison Huber, plant manager at Filtration Group, said the program has impacted employees in a number of ways.

“They are appreciative and take it as an opportunity to see personal growth,” she said.

She said it is a great opportunity for a business to help the community and its employees, and the benefits greatly outweigh the costs.

More and more businesses have been offering English literacy programs to their employees with the goal of building a stronger community inside and outside the workplace, retaining workers and providing opportunity for promotion.

The Hyatt Vineyard Creek will be participating in the WHEEL program this spring. Its program is set to begin sometime in the next 30 days. General Manager Keo Hornbostel said he believes it will make the employees better community members.

“It will help these folks in this English-dominated world when dealing with their children’s teachers, when talking to banks and auto dealerships,” he said.

There will be 15 participants from the Hyatt, but a number of participants from the Marriott across the street will also join them. Mr. Hornbostel said the Marriott didn’t have enough participants so he invited them to the courses at the Hyatt.

The original program evolved after Estela Prado, Filtration Group human resources administrator, and Dean Kerstetter, who at the time was director of West Coast operations, began attending Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce meetings. A chamber committee was trying to figure out how to help children in schools improve their grades and graduation rates. It was discovered that a major stopping point was a lack of participation from parents in schools directly related to language skills.

“That is how everything evolved,” said Ms. Prado, last year. “We asked, ‘How can the employers help?’”

Bob Reynolds, chief financial officer of Innovative Business Solutions, is a member of the chamber and has been instrumental in getting the programs going.

“I think this is a win-win for the employees and the employers. The employees are more likely to stay and advance in the company.”

He said there are a number of companies looking to get involved, including the Windsor Golf Course, Charlie’s Grill, the Flamingo Hotel, the Vintner’s Inn and Pacific Landscapes.

The courses take place at the place of business several days a week. In order to minimize impact of the courses on participants, many of the employers will pay wages for one of the two hours and will hold the courses at the end of the day so there will be little affect on transportation and childcare.

For more information about the program, contact Kelly Bass at 707-545-1414 ext. 16 or kellyb@santarosachamber.com.