Meet Our Students

 

Read below about the lives and experiences of  some of our current and former students …

Jonas Smith

Jonas came to Literacy Action through the GAIN program, a drug treatment center in downtown Little Rock. Jonas, 38, was released on probation in 2018 after being in and out of jails and institutions for most of his adult life. When he was just 12, Jonas started selling drugs for the promise of “fast money,” despite having a good family life and loving parents. When he was 15, he started using drugs himself because he was nervous about going to jail. He skipped a lot of school, finally dropped out in tenth grade, and spent time living on the streets. Now, given a second chance, Jonas wants to turn his life around and be a good example for his children.

At his first appointment with Literacy Action, Jonas told us that he needed help starting from the basics of reading with re-learning the letter sounds. Jonas shows signs of having dyslexia, which makes it difficult for him to sound out words he has never seen before. Jonas started working with his tutor, Sarah, using the Barton dyslexia curriculum. He quickly made progress in re-learning the letter sounds and reads with much better fluency and comprehension than he did at first. Now he’s serving as a peer counselor at Gain, where he leads AA and NA groups and counsels other young men like himself. He is currently studying for his driver’s license so he can drive around his new baby daughter. We are really proud of Jonas and his dedication to learning and creating a new life for himself, and we are thankful to be a part of it!

Sophia White

Sophia was born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan. In 2001, she came to the U.S. and has been living in Conway, Arkansas ever since. She used to work at an accounting firm but after she came to the U.S., she worked at a restaurant and took on a housekeeper job for a while. Now she’s retired.

Sophia writes, “I used to go to The Conway Adult Education Center to learn English. A classmate told me about Literacy Action of Central Arkansas at the library. I’m glad I have participated because it helps me focus on what I need to improve. My tutor [Sophia] is an awesome teacher!

I didn’t like to read at first because it would make me sleepy. But reading is the best way for me to improve my English. For a while, I had a hard time finding the right book for me till Sandy, a teacher of The Conway Adult Education Center, handed me a romance book by Danielle Steele called A Good Woman. Surprisingly, I enjoyed reading this book and it wasn’t difficult for me to read. Still, one day I hope to find some interesting books to read besides romance!”

Itza Navarro

Itza was born in Ensenada, Baja California, but moved to Hermosillo, in the northwestern state of Sonora, Mexico when she was 1 year old. She studied law at the University of Sonora before moving to Conway, Arkansas a few years ago.

Itza’s favorite memories are a lot of moments with her family: parties, trips and especially the holidays. She also likes to visit new places in Arkansas. She writes, “We come from a desert area, so Arkansas makes me feel that I’m living in a magical place. I love the Natural State!”

“I’m very proud of my kids and my husband. We had this amazing opportunity to change our lives, and we took it. We had to start our life in a new country without our relatives and friends, even when I didn’t speak English, but it is a reason for my motivation every day. It isn’t easy, but is possible,” writes Itza.

After coming to Arkansas, Itza tried to find help with the language, and a friend recommended Literacy Action because she had a tutor in Little Rock. Itza was happy to discover Literacy Action’s Conway office and says, “They gave me an amazing tutor. I am so grateful, and I would like to say thank you to Literacy Action, who does so much for us. I can see every day that I understand more, and my tutor [Aaran] gives me the confidence to believe in myself, and now I know one day I will achieve my goal.”

Liping “Lily” Zeng

Lily was born in China, Hunan province and has been living with her family in Arkansas for over a year. She earned her Master’s degree in Accounting in China but is now staying home to take care of her young children.

Lily loves spending time with her family hiking, fishing, reading stories, and playing games with her kids. She writes, “My kids are smart and my husband has been helping me become better. Although my English is not good, through studying, I believe that my English will be greatly improved.

“My husband is my biggest inspiration. It requires a lot of bravery to go to another country to study when his English [was] not good. In the ten years we have known each other, he has continued to encourage and support me and promote my continuous growth. He encountered difficulties, and his spirit of facing up to them made me admire him. He changed my life and I am grateful for the love he gives to our kids and me.

“I got involved with Literacy Action of Central Arkansas because I want to improve my English [so] that I can speak English fluently. Although my English needs improvement, my English tutor, Dale, is very patient and he carefully corrects my pronunciation and writing. Thanks to Literacy Action of Central Arkansas, I love studying English. I want to be able to speak English very well and then become a volunteer like my tutors, Dale and Kearra, to help other people.”

Mersey Brito

Mersey earned her degree in Social Communication (Radio/TV), and also studied Eastern Therapies, in Brazil. After earning her degree, she worked for several years at a university helping journalism students edit and present news on TV. Later, she became interested and took some coursework in Massage and Traditional Chinese Medicine, then started to give massages to a group of children who had no parents and used to live on the streets. After moving to Thailand, she chose to specialize in foot massage.

Mersey writes, “After moving to the United States, I discovered Literacy Action of Central Arkansas when my English was so basic that it made me feel very insecure to do even small things. I was scared but at the same time very excited to join any English class… Luckily a Brazilian friend told me about this program. I was very happy and grateful to find it. I enjoy meeting people from different cultures, reading, listening to music, dancing and wondering that I can speak more than my own language fluently. I am most proud to see beauty everywhere and do everything in my way that allows all the people after me to have a chance to enjoy this world with dignity.”

Mersey has attended many classes with many tutors at Literacy Action over the past few years. She continues to meet with Irma’s class via Zoom in her new home in Portugal so that she can keep up her English skills. We are honored to have played a part in Mersey’s adventurous life!

Anthony White

Anthony was born in Japan to an American father and a Japanese mother. He grew up in Okinawa speaking only Okinawan and Japanese. When he was 18, he decided to move to the United States to study English. It was the first time had met the American side of his family since he was a small child. Anthony studied at the Little Rock Adult Education Center and at UALR before he started working with his Literacy Action tutor, Izumi. In his time studying with Izumi, Anthony went from speaking almost no English to speaking well. He works and has gone on to higher levels of education. We are so proud of Anthony (and thankful to his tutor, Izumi) and wish him continued success achieving his dreams!

Yolanda Ornelas

Yolanda Ornelas (right) came to Literacy Action shortly after she moved here from Mexico, where she was a professor of economics and statistics.  She only spoke an intermediate level of English at that time, but she was determined to pass the TOEFL exam so that she could pursue advanced education here. Yolanda says it was a huge challenge (especially the writing section), but with her tutor Elisabeth’s help (shown on the left), she passed the test and was accepted into the Ph.D. program at UCA. Currently, Yolanda is working on her dissertation and will soon complete her doctorate. Her hard work, along with the support of her tutor, led to her amazing results. Congratulations, Yolanda!

Allen Glover

Allen Glover became a star literacy student in our Conway office. Allen worked with several tutors over the years to increase his reading level so much that he won an essay contest! He is now able to read to his grandkids, which is very important to him. He says that it’s much easier for him to go to the grocery store now because he can read the labels on the items. He was also proud to earn his motorcycle driver’s license. He gave a wonderful speech at our Shine a Light on Literacy fundraising event in 2016 and also served on the Literacy Action Board of Directors as a student representative. Great job, Allen!

Evelin Aguirre Crawford

Evelin Aguirre Crawford studied English with Literacy Action from 2014 to 2018, when she began her first job in the U.S. When Evelin moved here from Bolivia, she struggled to speak and understand English well. She studied hard with her tutor and in her classes until she became fluent.  Now she works as a bilingual salesperson at a major furniture store. Congratulations, Evelin! We are very proud of you and wish you lots of success!

Sammy King

Sammy King is known as one of Literacy Action’s most successful students. When Sammy learned about Helen Keller at the age of 66, he took her story as inspiration that he too could accomplish a difficult goal: continue working with his tutor at Literacy Action of Central Arkansas and finally become literate.

Raised by a man who could not even sign his name and wanted his son to get the education he never had a chance to get, Sammy nonetheless left school in the 6th grade. In 1968, King, then 18, was drafted to fight in Vietnam. He could man a machine gun, but he couldn’t read, and some of his Army brothers treated him differently because of it. It made him ashamed. “I’m not dumb,” King said. But he couldn’t seem to find help. After his time in Vietnam, his inability to read presented new challenges; he suffered from PTSD, but as he couldn’t read, it was almost impossible to get adequate treatment.

Sammy’s wife Kathleen tried to teach him to read, but with both of them working, they didn’t have the energy to tackle the difficult task in their free time. After retirement, however, King decided to visit Literacy Action and started working with volunteer tutor Pratt Remmel. At times, the difficulty and frustration made him question if it was worth it. But he stuck with it, faithfully spending several hours each week studying and practicing reading skills.

King now reads at about a sixth-grade level. He’s finally read a book about Helen Keller. More significant, however, was when, after 19 years of marriage, he was able to pick out Kathleen’s anniversary card himself and sign it, “to my loving wife.” King says he now has confidence he lacked his whole life, and for Kathleen, “It’s been an honor … to be with someone who has come out of hiding.” He said learning to read “took the burden I’ve been carrying all my life,” and he hopes others who can’t read won’t wait as long as he did to get help.