Literacy is so much more than reading and writing. It is a tool for meaningful engagement with the world around us.
We celebrate Maria’s ambitious journey to aim higher, gain independence, and achieve success in her career field through her work with her tutor, Dawn, to make her dreams come true. Maria grew up in Venezuela, where being outside your home, especially after dark, could be dangerous. Despite the adversity, she went to college and graduated from the University of Carabobo in 2015. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Telecommunications Engineering and got a job programming. As danger in her home country continued to increase, she, her mother, and brother decided it was time join family in North Carolina.
Maria had some training with the English language during high school and college but did not have a lot of English-speaking experience. She started in a beginner English class at Wayne Community College and quickly moved to a more advanced class. Her teacher spoke to Maria of aiming higher and using her education to achieve her career goals. She started taking Cisco classes and was referred as an intern to Literacy Connections to help improve her English language skills and to gain work experience. After a few weeks, she was learning a new computer system, trying to perfect her speech but wanted more. The staff worked with Maria to connect her with a tutor.
Dawn, an experienced IT Director, had recently left the corporate world and was looking for a way to contribute to her community. Google and her love of reading lead her to Literacy Connections. Seeing the similarities in their educational background the staff thought it would be a perfect match. They started working together by just talking about their lives and getting to know each other while Dawn corrected pronunciation. They moved on to conjugating verbs, vocabulary lists, and grammar. As Maria’s confidence grew, they worked on resumes, job applications, interview skills, and studying for the driver license test.
After working as an intern for seven months, she finally got the call from her dream employer, Cisco. She aced the interview and was hired. Due to the pandemic, she hasn’t been able to work in the office in Raleigh yet but works remotely from home. She speaks English for nine hours a day and loves every second of it. Maria says she wouldn’t have been able to achieve her ultimate goal without those months at Literacy Connections with her tutor.
In late summer 2018, she got a job as a waitress at a local restaurant. She credits her employment to Literacy Connections as she had to speak English to all the customers and wouldn’t have been comfortable otherwise. Maria waitressed for a year while still studying for her Cisco certification and saving money to buy a car. In August of 2019, she obtained a position as an IT intern working 24 hours a week. She was able to leave the waitressing job and concentrate more fully on her Cisco education.
Shortly after completing Bank On Wayne, Brittany’s brand new home was completed. Her home was dedicated on June 11, 2020, and she proudly received her keys. Recently, the new homeowner stopped by the center to provide an update on how she is using her newly acquired skills. She is saving each month to create an emergency fund and making decisions on home maintenance, such as paying someone to mow her lawn or investing in a lawnmower. She no longer has a landlord to call. It’s all on her. She also mentioned employing some of the energy savings tips discussed, such as setting the thermostat at a consistent temperature and not leaving lights or the TV on when not in use. Even though her new home is energy efficient, every little bit helps.
Literacy Connections recognizes our programs often work best when we partner with other organizations working toward similar goals. The partnership between the Bank On Wayne program and Habitat for Humanity clearly illustrates that it does indeed take a village! This is how the journey of prospective Habitat homeowner, Brittany, brought her to Literacy Connections.
A long time renter, Brittany dreamed of owning her own home and investing in her future with real assets. With only her income to depend on, she knew this was a lofty goal, so in 2018 she filled out an application for Habitat for Humanity. Initially, she was denied because her debt-to-income ratio was too high. Not to be deterred, Brittany found another stream of income and addressed the problem. She reapplied in 2019, and SUCCESS! This time she made the cut. All prospective Habitat homeowners must complete eight hours of financial education through Bank on Wayne as part of their required sweat equity. Brittany signed up and enthusiastically participated in the classes, eager to learn about budgeting for home maintenance, as well as new strategies to add to her existing budgeting skills.
As expected, Brittany is eager to fill her new home, but she is careful to plan her purchases and avoid impulse buys. She learned from Bank On Wayne that before making a purchase, she should consider the cost of the item and divide by her hourly wage to calculate the number of hours of work needed to buy the item. Sometimes, the purchase is just not worth it. Brittany said the most useful thing she learned was the importance of tracking her daily spending, even the small, seemingly insignificant things. This really allows her to see where her hard-earned money goes and to make changes if needed. Brittany also talked about the importance of having a built-in pause to prevent her from impulse purchases. So, what’s her pause? Call Mom!
Brittany said she would recommend Bank On Wayne to anyone hoping to purchase a home, not just participants in Habitat for Humanity.
This self-sufficient, hardworking, young lady’s journey is just beginning as she works to build a future of financial stability. Next up for Brittany is her four year degree in Human Resource Management. Your Friends of Literacy membership ensures that Literacy Connections can continue to provide financial literacy programs to community partners and together build pathways to homeownership for people like Brittany.
Meet Mary & Stris
Let’s walk along with Mary, her husband Stris and their two school-aged sons on their journey to North Carolina, taking a leap of faith and following the promise of work. Stris, a stroke survivor, cares for the boys, leaving Mary as the main earner for the family. The family began coming to Literacy Connections in the evenings to work on English and reading.
Mary was less concerned about her older son, but we could clearly see that he was worried about school. A sensitive, curious child, he soaked up every bit of the Communities Supporting School’s Reading Buddies program at his school. Sadly, even with intervention, Mary’s eldest son did not pass third grade. Failure is never a good feeling, no matter how positively one tries to explain it.
For any child especially Mary’s child, failing a grade is devastating and extremely depressing. One evening during a tutoring session, Mary showed her tutor a large stack of papers that she had received from the school. The papers expressed concerns about her son’s grades and offered interventions to help him, but she could not read them. Once the tutor helped Mary and Stris understand the information, the Reading Buddies program helped to ensure that their eldest son was enrolled in summer camp so he would be able to retest and have a chance to progress to the next grade. This young man worked very hard all summer and was successful!
In the classroom with Bill Broadaway and Mrs. Gail Lewis
It’s true what they say, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
As COVID-19 hit, the family faced a new challenge. Distance learning! Dad obtained internet and laptops for his two sons, and continues to work with a tutor to navigate his children’s education. Summer tutoring has involved learning activities that the whole family can do together to expose them to technology, reinforce foundational curriculum, and prepare them for another semester of distance learning. Their confidence in their ability to monitor and support their children’s learning from home has grown, even as they continue to learn as a family. What’s on the road ahead for Mary, Stris and their two sons? The possibilities are as boundless as their faith. Mary’s family is now more prepared for the next steps along their journey as they travel toward better education, homeownership and financial stability.
When parents don’t read well there is a 72% chance that their children will struggle and the cycle repeat itself.
Literacy Connections works to build strong families by connecting parents to the resources and people who can help them support their children’s learning.
Many of our students and their families, just like Mary’s family, need laptops and training on how to use them. Laptops are essential so that tutors can connect with students and their families remotely. Remote learning will introduce them to basic computer skills and learning apps that will help us track their progress. If there is a silver lining in all of this, it is the opportunity to expand our work with more individuals and families in the future through blended learning, a combination of technology and one-on-one tutoring.
Their tutor soon recognized that both boys were struggling academically and would benefit from additional support. Mary’s four year old was quiet, and she was very concerned about him. She was even worried about his hearing ability. We reached out to the Partnership for Children and enrolled her son in the NC Pre-K program. The pre-kindergarten experience provided assessments and support for the child and his family, and it wasn’t long before he was talking and socializing with other kids his age.
Joshua, a tall, thick-bearded husband and father of three speaks freely about his life, his struggles and successes, with a New England tinged accent that betrays he is not from around here. As a child, Joshua was smart but struggled in school with ADHD and had no support at home. By the time he was in high school, he was kicked out of his house, quit school, and began working for a moving company.
Now, he is a stay-at-home Dad while his wife runs a business to support the family. After realizing that the GED he obtained online was a scam, thoughts of his education began creeping into his mind, and he thought to himself,
"Why complain when you can do something about it?"
He was referred to Literacy Connections by Wayne Community College (WCC) and was connected with a one-on-one tutor. Anxious about coming in on that first day, he paced in the parking lot before getting the courage to enter the building. But when he did, he says, the staff quickly put him at ease, and he left feeling optimistic.
Joshua says his tutor was easy to work with and never rushed him. Literacy Connections allows the flexibility to figure out the student’s learning style and provides support and resources for the student and the tutor. Along with his confidence, his test scores rose.
After a lot of hard work, Joshua graduated from Literacy Connections at the end of 2019 and was in the process of transitioning to WCC when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. He confidently took on the role of teacher to his children, and at times even uses the same techniques that helped him learn. After he gets his GED, Joshua hopes to enroll in the automotive program at WCC and open an automotive repair business with his father-in-law. “Coming to Literacy Connections,” he says, “was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
Story Written by Dawn Amory
Edited by Literacy Connections