It was 20 years ago when six immigrant women sat around Janelle Metzger’s dining room table to learn English. Today, the former small, kitchen-based “English as a Second Language” class (ESL) is still operating despite early financial struggles. Classes currently operate under the banner of a nonprofit organization, Water for Ishmael.
Water for Ishmael, according to Metzger, started as a local Christian prayer group in Toledo, which recognized a need in the community to help area immigrants. Metzger, now executive director of the organization, helped the group since its beginning. The Toledo area nonprofit now offers immigrants preschool for their children, women-only English classes, an evening school for men and women as well as after-school tutoring and more.
Metzger explains that Water for Ishmael assists people in finding their way into the workforce while working to build a community that supports the immigrant process. The organization, which has its roots as a Christian prayer group in Toledo, recognized a need in the community to help area immigrants.
“We believe in everything Jesus said about welcoming a stranger, loving people, serving people well and doing good in our community,” Metzger said, adding, “We feel an obligation to serve others and serve them well.”
She credits a friend, Christy, with the epiphany that the women needed childcare in order to study English consistently. Christy, along with her teenage kids and Metzger’s teens, watched the immigrant children while their mothers studied. Those early ESL classes were women-only classes, a niche that Metzger thought was important and beneficial to her students.
“I had the privilege of going to an all-female high school and really saw the benefit of that kind of education,” Metzger said. “Also my experience living in the Middle East and understanding how much they have a (cultural) separation of the sexes, [made me realize] that for a Middle Eastern woman to study, this would probably be the best environment for them.”
When Water for Ishmael was getting started, and still being run out of her home, Metzger received help from like-minded organizations and individuals within the community. Metzger recalls that Calvary Church in Maumee bought the organization their first set of books and then Washington Church in Toledo offered Water for Ishmael a home. With that demonstrated community support, Metzger hired six part-time staff members to teach two programs: “The American School for Women” and “The American School for Children.” The programs currently remain as the organization’s signature offerings.
After opening Water for Ishmael in a more permanent setting, the organization had enough money in their account to operate for about three days, Metzger explains. “It has always been an adventure,” Metzger said, regarding the organization. “Again, I just keep having to blame God; I have no other explanation. Somehow God provided and we were able to give services through that year, and the next year, and the next. We started growing and adding more programs and more staff.”
From 2021-2022, Water for Ishmael helped 166 people, representing 20 different countries. The organization even saw 14 clients become citizens. The organization continues to expand by partnering with various local groups and always receiving donations to help those who seek out the group’s services.
While the organization is a Christian ministry, Metzger says that a conversion to Christianity isn’t required to obtain their services. “We would love for people to experience what we’ve experienced in following Jesus, but that’s not a requirement for receiving services,” Metzger said. “It’s just a bonus that’s there if people want it, but we serve everybody regardless because that’s what Jesus would have us do.”
Water for Ishmael, 20 Arco Drive. 419-720-8089. For more information, visit waterforishmael.org.