Category Archives: Student Spotlight

Student Rochelle Todd: Building On Confidence

By Will Orlowski, Ticket to Read Program Coordinator/AmeriCorps VISTA

When I asked Rochelle Todd if I could interview her for this piece, I did not expect her to say yes. Not because Rochelle is a difficult person, or because she would be too shy to tell her story; I was pessimistic because Rochelle is one of the hardest working people I know. She had just finished class (every Monday and Wednesday, 9:00-10:30 AM) and was hurrying off to get to work as she always does. But the moment I asked her for her help, before even explaining what I needed from her, she said she would make time for me.

“I can give you ten minutes,” she said with a smile.

Rochelle Todd & Tutor Ann Ziesman.

As I was to find out, this is typical of Rochelle. Born and raised in Kansas City, she has worked hard for years to help others. She has three daughters, two of whom are in high school, and a four-year-old grandson. Sitting down with me in my office, I asked her what she did in her time outside of work and school.

 “Mom stuff. I’ve got my daughters that are still in school and I just do the best I can to be a good mom. I go to the gym sometimes, but most of the time I’m working to learn more or to support my family.” She said this while fidgeting with the hem on her scrubs; Rochelle works in childcare at the Learning Curve, an organization that specializes in early-learning for Pre-K children in the KC Metro area. Clearly this was a woman who had priorities higher than herself, and knew what she was working to achieve. I asked her how she was able to do so much.

“I try to stay consistent. It’s about not letting anyone get in your way. That’s what I’ve learned here: have faith, you can do it.”

Having brought up her time at Literacy KC, I asked her to further explain what her experience as a student has been.

“Well, I’ve been here off and on since it was just me and a tutor. I’ve been here two straight terms now; I love my tutors, especially now since we have groups. I like that.”

Despite her tact and humility, I could tell that she was proud of what she had accomplished so far. Spending the time I do in all of our classes, it is not hard to see why. Despite the hectic nature of her schedule, Rochelle almost never misses class. Every one of her tutors had nothing but good things to say regarding both her personality and her work ethic, and when I informed her instructor (Julia Wendt) that I would be writing about Rochelle, she was ecstatic.

 In fact, Rochelle is so well regarded by the staff at LKC that when applications began to circulate for the new Student Advisory Committee, we jumped at the chance to recommend her. Once again, despite her already-full plate, Rochelle was eager to participate.

“It’s important to me that I have a voice,” Rochelle said when I asked her about the committee’s first meeting. “It’s really good to see that because it lets me know I’m improving. Things are opening up for me — usually I’m like a box, all closed off. But as I’ve grown I’ve come out of my shell. I feel like I can’t be ashamed anymore, and I’m not the only one. As long as you’re getting help that’s all that matters.”

“And how did the meeting go?” I asked.

“It went fine. We talked about a lot of things, and we’ll ask the classes for two goals to talk about with the committee.”

“I’m curious what some of your goals are for the committee? What are some things that you want to see them doing?”

“We want people to come out and get help,” she said. “We want people to not feel so bad that they can’t read or write. And just being able to talk to people, the younger generation that’s struggling and doesn’t know how to get help.”

I was desperately interested to hear more regarding the Student Advisory Committee (or “Together We Stand,” as they’ve named themselves), but having covered her past and present I felt I needed to learn more about her future, and I knew I did not have much more time before she had to leave for work.

“So Rochelle, I know we only have a few more minutes. What is it that you ultimately want to achieve?”

“I want to be able to read more, and to write,” she said. “I want to advance. I’m trying to get my education while I can, it’s definitely my priority right now. And I want to work in education. Maybe a school setting, like preschool or early childhood.”

Just like that, my ten minutes were up. I wanted to talk about so much more, to learn from this person who knew what she wanted, understood who she is, and was dedicated to accomplishing her goals no matter the effort required. But I was out of time, and so with one last question as she packed up her books and bag, I asked her what one thing she would say to a potential student, if given the chance.

“I would say come. It’s a good environment. If I was someplace else, I might not ever have gotten what I needed. It’s homey, it’s comfortable.”

With that, Rochelle went to work.

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Filed under AmeriCorps VISTA, For Students, For Tutors, Programs & Services, Student Spotlight, Uncategorized

Practical Steps Toward Achieving a Dream

A year ago, Tierra Lewis was enrolled in a GED class at an area community college, but feeling far from her dream of starting her own childcare business.

“It just didn’t work for me,” says the mother of a daughter, age 11, and son, 6.

Just by chance, Tierra passed by the Literacy KC offices on Armour Blvd. in mid-town Kansas City and stopped in. Later, she did a Google search for more information about what the nonprofit had to offer her.Tierra Lewis

“Cool beans, I’m for it!” she remembers saying, after reading about Ticket to Read and Family Reading Program classes. Tierra began right away by taking the Digital Life Skills prerequisite in Literacy KC’s computer lab before entering literacy classes.

She was also part of a student group who, with their children, attended Mayor Sly James’ summer reading event at the Sprint Center.

Today, Tierra is a pilot student in a new program called Career Online High School (COHS), a partnership between Literacy KC and both Kansas City and Mid-Continent Public Libraries, along with Gale Cengage Learning of Michigan, a leading educational content company. The flexible online education curriculum is designed to help qualified students earn an accredited high school diploma while gaining real-world career training.

COHS scholarships for 25 students will be awarded this year.  In addition to a high school degree, accredited by AdvancedED/SACS, recipients can work toward earning a career certificate in one of eight fields, designated as high-growth and high-demand. These areas include: Child Care & Education, Certified Protection Officer, Homeland Security, Food and Customer Service Skills, Office Management and more.  Academic coaches will be paired with each student. Biweekly online seminars focusing on 21st century skills and monthly career webinars for job market preparation will help students even further.

Tierra’s first online class is Child Development, toward her certificate in Child Care & Education.  “I’m learning about what’s behind interacting with children and how to actually be a business woman, from marketing to legal issues, for my own business,” she says.

Tierra’s next step will be to take the required courses she needs to obtain a diploma.

S- Tierra Lewis at COHS Launch 20160122

Tierra Lewis at the Career Online High School Launch Reception, 1/22/16

Her goal is to complete the program in nine months, about half the average estimated time. The goal appears to be an achievable one.  Tierra is studying every weekday at Literacy KC from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., getting help from instructors, tutors and staff, as needed. In the evenings and weekends she volunteers as Boy Scout den leader for her son’s troop and for the childcare nursery at her church.

“I want to first run my own business in toddler education and daycare,” she says about her future. “Then I’ll go on to be a social worker and help others.”

http://www.careeronlinehs.gale.com/kc/career-certificates/

http://www.careeronlinehs.gale.com/kc/

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Filed under Announcement, COHS, Community Partners, For Students, In The News, Programs & Services, Student Spotlight, Uncategorized, Understanding the Need

Students Making Change through Their Published Works

 

By Sarah Bell, Literacy KC Instructor

At Literacy KC, I have the pleasure of working directly with our incredible and intelligent students, and I have the fun task of planning interesting and relevant lessons, which often lead to thought-provoking discussions.

One of the units I designed for our past term was on “Race and Identity” and was inspired by a Call for Articles I received from an adult education magazine called The Change Agent. In the publication’s call, adult learners were invited to share their thoughts and experiences for the upcoming issue on racial issues. This topic caught my eye and led to my own unit on Race and Identity, where I gave students the option to submit an essay to The Change Agent. Of my almost 40 students, 15 submitted articles. Some shared personal experiences, some spent hours researching their topic, but all worked hard on their piece. I was proud of all of them, especially since this article was an optional activity.

My pride increased even further, however, when I discovered that THREE of my students’ pieces had been accepted to the magazine! The editor of The Change Agent expressed her delight with the articles, stating that each student provided a unique and valuable perspective to the magazine. Each student will get her piece published in the upcoming March issue of The Change Agent and a $50 stipend. The published students were also recognized at our recent event, “Books, Brains & Boulevard,” attended by about 150 guests.

Below are the three students’ pieces, soon to be published in The Change Agent.

 

Bullying the White KidsGlenda Archibald

Glenda Archibald

When I was ten years old, there was one white family that lived on our block. Then another white family also moved on the block. That was the first time I had a white friend, and we became close.

At the age of thirteen I went to Manual High School. There were only two white kids in the whole school. One of them was in my classroom. I didn’t like the way that the black kids treated him. They threw paper balls at him, hit him, and teased him. I didn’t know why they would do that to him, because he was a nice kid. After school, they would chase him through Gilham Park, calling him names like, “honky,” “white boy,” and “white pig.”

Their bullying used to make me mad and I would tell my mother about it because I didn’t understand why they acted this way. She would always tell me never to be in a category with people like that, because we are not racists, and she did not raise us to be racists, and that we are supposed to love everybody. I would stand next to the white boy after school and I fought for him, standing up to the bullies, both the boys and the girls. I told them to leave him alone because he hadn’t done anything to them and wanted to go to school just like the rest of us. The bullies were scared of me because I had brothers and cousins who would back me up.

When I look back on this, I think they acted this way because they were ignorant about the color he was and didn’t think white kids were good enough to go to that school. But as I got older I thought about that time, and I realized that they had just as much of a right to go to that school as we did. They wanted education, and we wanted education. Why couldn’t we all just get along?

Glenda Archibald grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. She attends school at Literacy Kansas City and Manual Tech and is working on getting her GED. She has four children, thirteen grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.


What I Celebrate About My RaceKarrie Gibson

Karrie Lynn

When people first look at me, they see a white female, but I am much more than that. My great-grandpa was born in Ireland. He moved over to the states when he was older. My great-grandpa left his children in an orphanage. This included my grandpa. My grandpa’s sister was adopted, and my grandpa went to live with his sister’s new family. My grandpa changed his last name from Beggs to Gibson which was his sister’s adopted name.

On my mother’s side, my great-grandpa was half American Indian. He was Cherokee. Both my great-grandpa and grandpa look like American Indians. I didn’t know them very well, but my great-grandpa married my great-grandma, who was white, and they moved to a small town in Missouri.

I consider my family “country folks” because I grew up in a small, rural Missouri town. My nearest neighbor was a mile away, it was pretty secluded. But, what I celebrate about my race is all the cultures that are in my family. Now I live in a city, and I appreciate seeing so many different cultures and the way that other people live. I believe I have that appreciation for different cultures because of my family’s multicultural heritage.

But most of all I celebrate being an individual and not being defined by my race. I celebrate my kindness for everyone I meet no matter their race. I celebrate my personality and how different and unique I am. I celebrate my culture and history and my individuality.

Karrie Lynn is a student at Literacy Kansas City. She plans to attend college and get her nursing degree.

 

My Experiences Growing Up with RacismShirley Lewis

Shirley Lewis

Whites Only

In the 1960s, I visited my grandmother and cousins in Arkansas. One Saturday morning some of us decided to go downtown to see a movie. I felt like the big-shot girl from the city having fun with my cousins from the country, and I was so excited as we entered the theater. After getting our tickets, I automatically ran down to the front to get our seats. My cousins didn’t come with me, so I stood up and looked for them. To my surprise, the usher approached me. He was a large man, wearing a uniform, and he said, “You cannot sit here.” I was stunned, and I said “Why?” Then I saw my cousins beckoning me to come back, but I refused. I had not experienced this kind of thing in my hometown of Kansas City, so I said, “I’m from Kansas City.” The usher’s face turned very red. The look on his face scared me, so I decided to join my cousins. With tears in my eyes, I went with them to the balcony, which was the only place blacks were allowed to sit. I was eight years old when this happened, and I have never forgotten that awful experience.

Light vs. Dark in My Own Family

To my great surprise, I was exposed to racism in my own family. Back then, if your skin was darker and your hair was shorter, you tended to be thought of as less worthy than your counterparts. Girls who had fairer complexions and long hair were treated better, even within their own families. For example, since I was the darker skinned girl, I was usually the one who was asked to wash dishes or clean up, while the other girls just had to look pretty. Due to this treatment, I spent many years feeling that I didn’t deserve better. I did some very extreme things to feel pretty and accepted, such as bringing gifts every time I visited a friend because I didn’t feel like I was good enough on my own. I would also ask my friends’ parents if they needed help cleaning up. I felt like I needed to perform some act of service to be considered a worthwhile individual and to be accepted by others. As I grew older, I gained more confidence, and now I am very proud of my personal appearance. In my 20s, while I was married, a friend invited me to a fashion show and I was overwhelmed with the models who were all shapes, sizes, and colors. Soon after, I started attending a modeling school because I thought if all of these girls can model, so could I. My husband did not approve of me joining the school, but he became very proud of me and my accomplishments. This experience helped change my attitude about myself and I gained more confidence in myself and my appearance.

Racial Tension at School

I went to an all-black school until eighth grade, and then I switched to a predominately white school. I was the only black eighth grader. The white students were not nice to me, due to the fact that they were not used to going to school with black students.  As a result, I became something of a trouble-maker. I tended not to listen in class, talked back to the teacher, and cracked a lot of jokes.

I was helped by a great teacher, Mrs. James. She was a stern gym teacher, and most of the black students, including me, didn’t like her. We disliked her so much, a group of us verbally attacked her one day after school. In my heart, I knew this was wrong, so all of a sudden, I jumped in front of the other kids and said, “This is wrong! We can’t do this!” She showed no fear, and everyone backed down. This made me unpopular with the other kids, but Mrs. James became an advocate for me. She told the other teachers I was a good person and they should give me a chance, in spite of my rude behavior. I became a better, more productive, and nicer student after that. I graduated and was voted best athlete in my senior year. It made a big difference to have an ally. I’m the kind of person who needs people to believe in her, and Mrs. James showed me how to believe in myself.

Shirley Lewis is a 65-year old Kansas City native, who recently decided to focus on herself after years of working and raising two successful children. She started taking classes at Literacy KC in May 2015. She is also a caretaker for her sister, an involved church member, and an active participant in community organizations.

 

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2015: A Momentous Year for Literacy Kansas City: A Letter from the Executive Director and a Photo Essay of the Year in Review

A Note from the Executive Director

As I reflect and look back on this last year, my question for you is, how much do you really know about what Literacy Kansas City is doing these days? So much has changed around here that if it’s been more than a year or so since you’ve visited us, you might think you’ve come to an entirely different organization!

The most exciting change brought by 2015 was our new Ticket to Read service delivery model. We absolutely transformed the way we reach and teach our students, and the best part of all? It’s working. Better than we ever dreamed.

Those of you who know me well know that in order to illustrate how well things have been going, my instinct would be to tell you the hard facts…

Things like:

  • The total number of students who participated in our Ticket to Read program alone in 2015 was 256!
  • 186 students sent their first email.
  • 64 students purchased their first computer or laptop.
  • 105 students completed an online form, like a job application.
  • 191 students participated in digital life skills classes and gained Internet skills.
  • 60 students got their first library card.
  • 164 visited a library.
  • 19 students wrote their first resume.
  • 37 students got a raise.
  • 49 students got a new job.
  • 76 helped a child with homework.
  • 110 students read to a child.
  • 68 attended a child’s school event.
  • 39 joined their child’s PTO/PTA.

One of the most challenging aspects of adult literacy instruction is encouraging students to persist in their attendance. Literacy Kansas City is making strides in this area, as well, as evidenced by student persistence and retention measures:

Students, instructors, and tutors have achieved over 7000 hours of instruction.

And, perhaps most remarkable of all, Term 3’s Ticket to Read program achieved an astounding 91% retention rate! Meaning more than 9 out of 10 students who started Term 3 finished Term 3 successfully. That is an unheard of statistic in adult literacy education practices.  

So, like I said, I could tell you all sorts of hard facts and type until my keyboard is worn and revolting about the things we know regarding our first year of instruction under this new model.

But right now, maybe it’s the time of year and I’m feeling extra sentimental. Maybe it’s all the unrest and political divisiveness happening in our country. Maybe it’s the violence and controversy around us. Maybe my two little boys are turning this momma into a softie.

Whatever it is, I don’t really want to talk about what we know. Instead, I’d like to talk about how it feels to be a part of Literacy KC. Every day, I come to work and see yet another example of the community we’ve been working toward, the feeling of inclusion, of safety, of belonging, that each staff member, each volunteer, each supporter is investing in and helping us to build. And it is through describing these things that I see each day that I hope you will also start to feel what I mean.

Throughout the last year, I’ve seen:

  • Students spending extra hours in the computer lab at Computer Happy Hour learning new skills- and this stuff isn’t even homework!
  • Students who have particularly bad days come here to get help because it’s a safe place full of people they trust, and they know at the very least they will get a smile and a place to rest their weary feet for a few minutes
  • Students, instructors, and tutors working together in classrooms- people from all walks of life whose paths may never have crossed otherwise- sitting close, shoulders touching, heads bent over a passage or book, writing, reading, and discovering together.
  • A big shot lawyer and a big shot pastor having lunch together to brainstorm ideas on how their congregation can help support the work we’re doing here.
  • Students becoming volunteers- spending extra hours at the office helping with projects because they, too, want to contribute and give back.
  • A group of volunteers, staff, and community members meeting to organize a system for students to get help with emergencies.
  • Partner sites excited to give us space, use of equipment, and the help of staff to support our programs for free, because they believe in what we’re doing.
  • Students continually asking after the well-being of staff members or volunteers who have run into health issues and are absent from work or class.
  • Instructors spontaneously working together with other instructors, staff, or volunteers, excited about yet another discovery.
  • Experts in the field of adult teaching offering time, training, and supplies for free to help us achieve the best approach to teaching possible.
  • Staff working beyond their normal hours to help other staff members with homework or special projects.
  • Students volunteering to read a creative piece or speak about their experiences at very public events, helping us allow students to become our spokespeople and public advocates for the work we do here.
  • Students making sure their friends are getting to class, picking each other up from home, even helping each other out with projects in their homes. In other words, our students are becoming friends and, some would say, even family.

I could go on and on. But because you may be ready to re-join your family’s holiday celebration or go indulge in another slice of pie or another glass of bubbly, I will stop there.

But I do want to share one last thing. I had the good fortune to hear a speech and take part in a workshop on cultural competency and inclusion given by Brigette Rouson, a long-time advocate and activist for social justice. In her speech, she quoted Dr. Cornell West who says, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”

And when we get down to it, isn’t that what we do here? I like to interpret our nonprofit work as justice work, as just, meaning it is making available the services and opportunities that everyone inherently deserves.

And hidden in all those examples of work and effort and learning I listed above is a shared experience, a sense of humanity, good will, justice, and recognition of our own inherent worth. In other words, everyone deserves this- a safe place to explore, to discover, to learn. Everyone.

At times like this, when things are crazy in the world and in our country, I like to think of that Fred Rogers quote. Fred Rogers, AKA Mr. Rogers. You know him- the one with the slippers, cardigan, and puppet friends who make up the most incredible neighborhood.

Anyhow, Mr. Rogers has talked about how his mother would always tell him in times of unrest, uncertainty, or violence: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

And that’s just it. That’s what this year has been like for me. I’m surrounded by the helpers: Instructors helping students. Supporters helping the organization. Experts helping our instruction. Tutors helping instructors. Staff helping each other. Students helping staff. Volunteers helping everyone. Students helping each other.

We all need help, and we’re all fortunate to be in a community that gives – and receives – help freely, without shame, without a sense of entitlement or charity. But because it’s right. And I think it’s an incredible- if somewhat unintentional- side effect of our new classroom and community model. And it’s because we work so hard to build a community here, to collaborate with students in the learning process, to create a place of shared experience, of team mentality, of “we’re all in this together, so let’s help each other out”, that our success is inevitable. And this coming year is one of opportunity, of growth, of accomplishment, of love.

So thank you. And congratulations to our students on such a wonderful achievement. Keep going. We’re here to help, and thank you for your help. And thank you for letting me be a part of it.

Gillian Helm, Executive Director and grateful Literacy KC groupie

The Year 2015 in Pictures

 

 

Kim Rogers, Sarah Bell, Emily Hane, Love Letters

Staff members Kim Rogers, Sarah Bell and Emily Hane enjoying self decorated cookies at Love Letters.

Price Horn, James Carlile, Deborah Roach, Suzie Kemper - UMB Winning Spelling Team

Literacy Kansas City’s 21st Annual Spelling Bee Winners – UMB – Price Horn, James Carlile, Deborah Roach, Suzie Kemper

Will (New VISTA), Rachel Henderson, Robert Day, Emily Hane and Carrie Coogan

Staff members take on a Day at the Zoo.

April Grant and mom, Zoo Day

Student April Grant and her mother at Literacy Kansas City’s Day at the Zoo

Patrice Gonzalez, Becky Holst, Dana Moriarty, Kim Rogers - Outreach Day 20150724

Former VISTA Patrice Gonzalez, Board member Dana Moriarty, Instructor Becky Holst and staff member Kim Rogers with a Little Free Library during Literacy Kansas City’s Student Outreach Day.

Midnight in Paris

Literacy Kansas City supporters enjoying the 2nd Annual Gourmet Dinner – Midnight in Paris.

Lynn O'Connell, Haley Box, Rachel Cash, Gourmet Dinner

Mary Jo Saviano, Board President Lynne O’Connell, staff members Haley Box and Rachel Cash enjoying a Midnight in Paris, Gourmet Dinner.

Dave Mullins, Charlie Vitale, Fred Lewis, Windell Lamb

Volunteers Dave Mullins and Charlie Vitale with students Windell Lamb and Fred Lewis at the Term 2 Student Celebration

Victoria Estes, Raymond Woodson, Student Celebration

Student Victoria Estes and guest with student Raymond Woodson at Term 2 Student Celebration,

Carrie and Peggy accepting check, UMB Big Bash

Former Literacy KC Executive Director, Carrie Coogan, and former student, Peggy Shannon, accept the UMB Big Bash award.

Bride and groom, Wedding

Brent and Ella Rogers saying their vows at their Love, Charity, Rock and Roll Wedding

Gillian Helm, Literacy for All Luncheon

Executive Director Gillian Helm at the Literacy for All Luncheon.

Will Orlowski, Shirley Lewis, Literacy for All Luncheon

VISTA Will Orlowski and student Shirley Lewis at the Literacy for All Luncheon.

Sherrian Robinson, Literacy for All Luncheon

Student Sherrian Robinson speaking at the Literacy for All Luncheon.

Charlotte Brown, Literacy for All Luncheon

Student Charlotte Brown preparing to arrive in style to the Literacy for All Luncheon. Special thanks to Pech Limousine for donating a Limousine for a couple of hours.

Sarah Bell and Elizabeth Nelson, TTR C2

Instructor Sarah Bell with student Elizabeth Nelson during a Term 3 class.

Henry Hurtado, Linda Marcusen, Maricruz Bazaldua, TTR C1

Students Henry Hurtado and Maricruz Bazaldua with tutor Linda Marcusen working hard during a Term 3 class.

Becky Holst and class, TTR A1

Instructor, Becky Holst (far left), and her Ticket to Read class

Henry Hurtado, New Computer, 11.6.15 2

Student Henry Hurtado enjoying his new computer.

Garrett Waters, Mary Thornton, Fred Lewis, Writers for Readers

Students Garrett Waters, Mary Thornton and Fred Lewis reading at the Inaugural Writers for Readers event.

Gillian Helm, Writers for Readers

Executive Director, Gillian Helm speaking at Writers for Readers.

Bol Wajak, Student Celebration 20151209

Student Bol Wajak accepting his certificate at Term 3 Student Celebration.

 

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Literacy KC Student Story: Kim Kline

by Will Orlowski, Americorps VISTA, Ticket to Read Program Coordinator

“I want to complete everything you have to offer!” – Kim Kline

When I asked Kim Kline to sit down with me after her class on Monday, the first thing she wanted to know was what she had done wrong. I smiled and told her, “Nothing!” and that, in fact, she had done a lot right and I wanted to interview her for this blog post. She seemed surprised and a little bashful, telling me that she did not think anyone would want to read about her. Nevertheless, she was happy to answer my questions.

This is a perfect example of why Kim is an exemplary student. Kim is modest and polite, incredibly friendly and always willing to stick around and speak with me or the instructors if needed. She works hard and comes to class every week prepared and eager to learn more.

Kim with Limo

Kim (center) and other students pose on the red carpet before boarding the limo that would take them to the Literacy for All Luncheon. “The luncheon and the limo ride,” Kim says, “was one of the best days of my life.”

“I was tired of not being able to read,” Kim said to me when I asked what brought her to Literacy Kansas City. Retired now, Kim was born and raised in Topeka before moving to Kansas City to support her daughters and help raise her grandchildren. In fact, prior to retiring Kim worked in the daycare her grandchildren went to, caring for them and other Kansas City children. It was her family, Kim says, that helped her take the first step with her literacy.

“It was something I’d been wanting to do for years,” Kim told me. She had not had the courage to try until her daughters encouraged her, and when they referred her to Literacy KC she knew it was time to start.

“Before I started the program I was beginning to have a positive attitude, but since I started I’ve felt wonderful… For the first time in my life I believe that I can accomplish this.” Kim made sure to praise her teacher, Sarah Bell, particularly.

“Miss Sarah is a special person,” Kim said with a grin. “Miss Dorothy (Elliot) and Miss Brenda (Moore) are wonderful too, but all of them are great,” she also mentions, referring to the tutors that work with her class, which meets every Monday and Wednesday for an hour and a half. Currently, her class is reading about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and on Monday they read his famed “I Have a Dream” speech. The students all were asked to write about their own dreams, and Kim was quick to tell me hers.

“I want to complete everything you have to offer,” she says with determination, referring to the other programs offered at Literacy Kansas City. She is particularly interested in math tutoring and the digital life skills workshops designed to help students increase their comfort and efficiency with technology. Judging by her work ethic, this is definitely an achievable dream for Kim.

“Kim is such a positive presence in class,” her teacher Sarah told me. “She’s always there and she always works hard. She’s so friendly and so eager to learn.”

As I wrapped up my interview with Kim, I asked her if there was anything she wanted people to know. What she said left me feeling humbled and thankful to have the opportunity to work with people like Kim every day.

“I was nervous at first, but you (Literacy KC staff and volunteers) make everybody feel so special. I feel like you guys really want to help us and accomplish our goals. This place is helping me change my life!”

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Student JeVan McCurdy’s “insanely cool” experience at Literacy Kansas City

Twenty-nine-year-old JeVan McCurdy arrived at Literacy Kansas City the same way many of our students do: After he looked into completing his high school equivalency by taking the GED, the Smithville resident was encouraged to come to the Midtown-based nonprofit.

McCurdyB

McCurdy: “I want to be at a higher pace, at a higher skill than I am now.”

The polite, soft-spoken student admits he was “skeptical” at first. His educational experiences growing up were somewhat negative, and he left his sophomore year of high school. While he says he still wasn’t sure about Literacy KC after his first term with the then new Ticket to Read program, he became fully engaged during his second term, when he met his current instructor, Phil Denver, former head of our GEARS program for MCC-Penn Valley.

“He actually showed me how to break words down and to sound them out,” JeVan explains. “So it helps a lot. And he made me more confident in my writing.”

In fact, one of the highlights of JeVan’s time with Literacy KC was when he wrote his first complete paper.

“When I sat there and I realized I wrote a whole entire paper, I was like, ‘Oh, wow.'”

He goes on to describe what this small, yet monumental victory means to him: “Three paragraphs, properly spelled . . . It’s insanely cool. It made me feel a lot better, way more confident than I have been.”

He also journals nearly daily now, which he says has been “excellent.”

Phil encourages writing in class as well as at home, and one topic in particular is a reflection of the current steps JeVan is taking to achieve his professional ambitions.

“It’s called ‘Lifelong Dreams,’ and mine is to actually be an Iron Chef.” JeVan lights up when discussing this, and it’s obvious how much it means to him that he can write about it. But it’s just a first step, of course. While he’s currently the head chef at a sports bar and grill in Smithville, MO, he still wants to get his GED, start taking college courses and eventually accomplish his professional goals as a chef.

“I want to be at a higher pace, at a higher skill than I am now,” JeVan says.

It’s apparent that he has been inspired to do well in class, even with his long commute from north of the river.

McCurdyA

McCurdy (right) preps to tackle his reading and writing assignments with Ticket to Read Instructor Phil Denver (left) and fellow student Joseph Lewis

“It helps because we have an awesome teacher,” JeVan says of Phil, adding, “I always want to be there with him.”

Phil shares in his student’s joy at his successes in class. He talks about JeVan’s great leadership among the other students, and how his creativity comes through in his culinary skills. On one of the last days of summer classes, JeVan brought in a salsa he’d made. The class loved it. Phil laughs and said a student who didn’t even like salsa was devouring it.

But JeVan doesn’t mention any of this, preferring to talk about what Phil has accomplished in the classroom. “I feel like I’m learning a lot with Phil as a teacher. So that keeps me motivated. And just seeing how much I’ve improved from the past two semesters to now is keeping me motivated.”

Again, JeVan knows these are the first steps. But with Literacy KC’s committed teaching staff, volunteer tutors and expanding resources, he’ll get there.

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