It started with a couch.
Almost 20 years ago, Gainesville High School teacher Louise Yariv noticed most of her ESOL, or English for Speakers of Other Languages, students didn’t bring much to America when they came over from other countries with their families.
Without a home, English language skills or a familiar environment, students were put at a disadvantage before school even entered into the equation.
Yariv and her husband, Yossie, started the ESOL Closet with the donation of a couch 20 years ago. The closet is designed so families in need can acquire clothing, furniture and other essentials.
The donations the Yarivs have received now fill three classrooms at Gainesville High School.
Yariv, who has taught ESOL students for 23 years, uses couches instead of metal desks and chairs to encourage interaction and comfort her students.
One of Yariv’s students, Russell Pereez, moved to America when he was 13 years old. He has studied under Yariv for four years and enjoys her nontraditional classroom structure.
“She’s not only a teacher,” Russell said. “She helps every ESOL student as a guidance counselor.”
The ESOL Closet has given back to Russell and his family by providing more than 50 percent of their furniture in their new home of six months. In return, he has helped her deliver items to families in need.
Gainesville High School will allow the ESOL Closet project to continue even after Yariv retires in June.
She said the need is great, so she doesn’t want to give up her passion of helping ESOL students and their families. Yariv and her husband pillage garage sales every Saturday in search of new items for the closet.
She said the ESOL Closet was very small in the beginning because it was just her and her ESOL students who knew about it. Thanks to her husband, volunteers, Gainesville High School, the community and social media, the ESOL Closet will hopefully continue to grow and impact even more families.