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Influenced by a Personal Story Alumnus Gives to Expand ESL Program at USTMAX Center and Waive Cost

Paul Vallhonrat '95Paul Vallhonrat ’95 in Economics speaks perfect English. Always has. But he is starkly aware of how a lack of English led his Cuban immigrant grandparents and great aunts to struggle when they left everything behind and fled to America in 1963 after the revolution. Being able to learn and speak English became very important to his family. Decades later, when his elderly parents lived in the Conroe area and dealt with failing health, he came to know their Spanish-speaking housekeeper and recognized that this very dear caregiver was limited in the U.S. by not learning English. 

“She was incredibly caring and took loving care of my parents in the final years of their lives,” Vallhonrat recalled. “She was so thoughtful and would anticipate all of their needs. For instance, their hands were arthritic, so Martina would pre-open bottles in the refrigerator for them.”

Through Martina, Vallhonrat became aware of a large Spanish-only community in Conroe. Now, he is determined to create economic opportunities for that community and others by building their English language skills.

The UST Connection: ESL Classes at USTMAX

Already an active and involved University of St. Thomas-Houston alumnus (he is a Presenting Sponsor of the popular Two Saints and a Taco Tasting event), Vallhonrat picked up the phone and called his friend Dr. Carla E. Alsandor, senior director of the USTMAX Center in downtown Conroe where he knew ESL classes were being offered for adult learners.

Long story short, Vallhonrat told her, “I want to help make a world of difference like UST did for me. And it’s never too late to learn English.”

Donation Expands ESL Program and Makes It Free

Alsandor said, “Because of Paul’s generous donation, the USTMAX Center can expand our ESL program to accommodate students who are ready to advance to intermediate level conversational English. We also structured his gift to provide scholarship reimbursement to all current and future students who complete the classes in spring and summer. So, if they stick with the course, it’s free.”

A Drive to Give Back and Inspire Other Alumni to Do Same

Vallhonrat, who lives with his wife, Janna, in Colleyville, Texas, explained his drive to give back. “I am strongly grateful to St. Thomas because they gave me direction and purpose and rebuilt my confidence as a young man. I can’t express enough how much the University and its encouraging atmosphere mean to me. My professors like Fr. Kelly and Professor Krohn taught me to think, problem-solve and work with others. It helped me tremendously and made me successful at what I do. Now I need to give back as I am able.”

Vallhonrat aims to inspire other UST alumni to get involved in the University. For alumni who are ready to give, visit this link. For more information about making a gift, please contact University Advancement at 713-525-3100.

To receive information about future USTMAX events and courses, go here.