Literacy for Life celebrates success stories

sbirkenmeyer@vagazette.com

More than 200 people turned out Wednesday to join in Literacy for Life’s annual Celebration of Lifelong Learning, which highlights the successes of the nonprofit organization and its clients, which work to better themselves through education.

“It’s an opportunity to acknowledge the successes of our learners and show appreciation for our volunteers and the people in the community who support us,” said Literacy for Life executive director Joan Peterson. “It’s really about thanking people.”

Such celebrations have taken place since before Peterson started as executive director a decade ago, and they’ve grown each year alongside the organization itself, which grew from 225 clients to more than 1,000 in that timeframe.

Sen. Monty Mason, an advisory board member for the organization, lauded its impact on people of all ethnicities and ages as it helps adults finish school, find jobs and better integrate into the community as a whole.

“Look at all the walks of life that this organization touches,” Mason said. “From A to Z, what they do here is really foundational.”

The event commemorates another 12 months of progress across a myriad of subjects. Nearly 50 learners got a job or secured a better one, nine obtained a driver’s license and two voted for the first time with help from the organization.

In its June round of grant awards, the Williamsburg Health Foundation awarded $50,000 toward Literacy for Life’s HEAL program, which has trained 70 medical professionals in the past year to better serve people with low health literacy while also teaching 150 learners how to interact with professionals and ask relevant questions.

Held at the Matoaka Woods Room inside the College of William and Mary’s school of education building, the celebration featured guest speakers including Virginia Deputy Secretary of Education Holly Coy. Two Literacy for Life clients, referred to as learners, also took to the podium to share their stories.

“I wanted to learn everything, to read, write, speak English and get my GED,” said Israel Gomez Hernandez.

He credited his progress at Literacy for Life for earning him a promotion at work. Inspired by his love for cars, Hernandez was also interested in becoming a certified mechanic; he completed the prerequisite class with the third highest marks among his peers. Hernandez is already working toward his next goal: certification in auto collision repair.

“I’d never have come so far without my tutors,” he said.

Learner Joanne Pollard also talked about her life. Her mother died when she was young and she grew up listening to her father tell her she was dumb. She ran away from home at 16, eventually ending up in Virginia with two children.

Pollard secured a job at the New York Deli, even though she’d never held a job and couldn’t read the menu, which luckily featured numbers next to the different options. But she aspired for more in life.

“I knew that to better your life, you needed education,” Pollard said. “I was determined to get my GED.”

Pollard took a GED class, but found it difficult, as students learned at different rates and there was little in the way of one-on-one help. She stumbled upon a pamphlet promoting Literacy for Life, highlighting its more personal brand of tutoring, and she eventually checked it out.

Now she has her GED and she’s interested in pursuing a college education while also helping her grandchildren do well in school.

“This is a wonderful program,” Pollard said. “I just love everybody.”

Birkenmeyer can be reached by email at sbirkenmeyer@vagazette.com, by phone at 757-790-3029 or on Twitter @sethbirkenmeyer.

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