I am responding to the Jan. 29 Maine Voices column by Portland resident Caitie Whelan.

I admire her involvement in helping to get 156 free bus passes for students who are enrolled in English for Speakers of Other Languages classes. But what she doesn’t realize is that she enabled these immigrant students to become welfare recipients. Were all those students old, children, disabled or in temporary need?

In 1960, I immigrated to America at age 17. I was poor, had no job skills and did not speak English. I had a family here to take care of me, but I got a job delivering heating oil. I worked 10 hours a day, six days a week for $30 per week and pushed myself to learn English and become successful.

Every night after work, I took the bus to night school at Portland High School to learn English. I never missed a day, no matter how bad the weather was. If the bus was running, I was on it. My teacher, Mr. Jeffrey, would come in during stormy days because he knew I would be in class. I learned English and a trade.

In 1963, I joined the U.S. Army and applied for U.S. citizenship but was deployed to Germany in 1964 before I could take the test. I saved my Army pay for a ticket back to America to take that test and became a U.S. citizen in 1965.

After returning to America with a wife and child, I worked two to three jobs and took many night courses to better myself. I became a successful businessman and made it my goal to help as many people as I could, never asking for anything in return. To me, this is the America that I dreamed of, and I pray to God that it will remain so for all future generations.

Salvatore Raia