Secretary of State and State Librarian Jesse White and Sue Montalvo, Director of the Illinois First Amendment Center, representing the Illinois Press Association (IPA), presented the Spotlight Awards on May 14, 2008. The Spotlight on Achievement awards recognized outstanding accomplishments made by ten adult learners. Student winners received a plaque, personalized Illinois Blue Book and a $200 check from the IPA Foundation. For more information, contact Diane Manning at email@example.com or 1-800-665-5576, #3.
Standing left to right: Sue Montalvo, Director of the Illinois First Amendment Center; Delfino Garcia, Oakton Community College, Skokie; Bernice Husher, Kaskaskia College Reading Link Program, Centralia; Jerry Mezo, John A. Logan College, Carterville; Christine Moeller, Illinois Eastern Community Colleges (Frontier), Fairfield; Wantanee Freeman, YWCA Adult Literacy, Pekin; Secretary of State and State Librarian Jesse White. Seated left to right: Alexandra Fleming, Kaskaskia College Reading Link Program, Centralia; Michael Dellar, Blue Gargoyle Community Services, Chicago; Marco Ceja, Waukegan Public Library; and Burnice Blair, Common Place Family Learning Center, Peoria. Roshonda Smith, De La Salle/Tolton Center, Chicago, was unable to attend the event.
2008 SPOTLIGHT ON ACHIEVEMENT(STUDENTS) STORIES
Burnice Blair, Common Place Family Learning Center, Peoria
- After raising her children and retiring from her job, Burnice Blair now had time to do something for herself. She wanted to learn to read and write but she thought she was too old. With encouragement from her family, Burnice called Common Place Family Learning Center and found out that you are never too old to learn. In just two years, Burnice acquired new skills like driving out of town to her children’s homes without fear of getting lost, like balancing her checkbook and understanding her bills without her daughter’s help. She is now hosting a Bible study group in her home. And she attended the New Readers for New Life Conference in Galesburg with her fellow adult learners. She has embraced learning.
Marco Ceja, Waukegan Public Library as a partner in Lake County Adult Learning Connection, Waukegan
- Because Marco Ceja’s family moved frequently when he was a child, he attended more than 20 different schools. Struggling with reading, he never stayed in one school long enough to get help. In fact, he was encouraged to drop out of high school. But he refused to leave without a diploma so he was placed in a special vocational program to finish high school. He still sought to improve his reading and writing skills after finishing high school. Literacy programs in other states told him they could not help him. He was rejected by the military and denied voting privileges because he could not read. Determined to learn to read, Marco enrolled in the literacy program at Lake County Adult Learning Connection and in automotive classes at College of Lake County. Soon after enrolling in the automotive class, his instructor recommended him for a job at a car dealership based on his determination and hard work. Marco has since been offered a new job at an auto body shop. Since improving his reading and writing skills his life is so much better. He can read mail, street signs, work orders and even read and understand a book. Also, for the first time, he voted.
Michael Dellar, Blue Gargoyle Community Services, Chicago
- Michael Dellar had a difficult childhood, filled with experiences no child should have to endure. But perhaps those hard times helped him to develop a strong sense of self-preservation and a desire to be more. Until two years ago, Michael was unable to read or write. However, the remarkable progress he’s achieved recently in reading and writing has heightened his self-esteem and motivated him to seek greater self-improvement. At one time when he was evicted from his sister’s home, Michael relied on the Gargoyle community for food and shelter. With help, he was finally able to move into his own apartment. Now he has a part-time job and writes stories using a computer. Michael learned to ride the CTA bus alone and has been in downtown Chicago several times. Recently, Michael has begun attending church for the first time. He is a thirsty man in a desert who has been given a taste of water and wants more. Paul Strauss, a Spotlight on Service winner, is Michael’s tutor.
Alexandra Fleming, Kaskaskia College Reading Link Program, Centralia
- Alexandra Fleming was born in Germany and came to the United States 14 years ago when she married a young main in the military. In Germany, she did not graduate from high school. As a volunteer at her son’s school, she was told about the Reading Link Program. Since she wanted to be able to read and speak better English, she enrolled. Self-conscious of her language ability and accent, she works very diligently with her tutor and puts in extra study time at home to achieve her goals and to improve her reading skills. Now that she is more confident she is able to help her son with his homework. Alex started the process to take the Citizenship test and passed. She is now a United States citizen! She studied the Rules of the Road book to obtaining a driving permit and then her driver’s license. She is looking forward to being able to drive herself and her son to activities this summer. She is no longer dependent upon her husband to drive her everywhere and no longer stranded and isolated at home while he is at work. She will be starting GED classes in the very near future. The goals she is achieving benefit her personally, and also benefit her family.
Wantanee Freeman, YWCA Adult Literacy, Pekin
- In Wantanee Freeman’s native Thailand, they use a different calendar and different alphabet and numerals. When she came to the United States, she couldn’t read the English alphabet or the English numbers. Because of the calendar difference, she didn’t know what year she was born. That was only one of many differences. The cold winters in Illinois were a new experience as Thailand has a warm climate. Pekin is a small town compared to the large city in Thailand where she had lived. She was homesick for her family. In spite of being very shy and withdrawn, she was determined to learn and to improve her life. She was matched with a tutor at the YWCA Adult Literacy program. As she learned to speak English, she became more outgoing. Now when she goes shopping she can ask for help in the stores, she can talk with her neighbors and she understands what her son’s teacher is saying about his progress. She has studied and passed the driver’s test. Her tutor successfully recommended Wantanee for a job. Her boss has the highest praise for her work and has given her several raises. She feels she now has experienced the American dream.
Delfino Garcia, Oakton Community College, Skokie
- Delfino Garcia completed four years of schooling in Mexico. At age 16, he came to the United States and worked to support himself and then his family. Delfino works a 3:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. shift sometimes working as much as 60 hours a week. This long work schedule did not stop him from registering for classes at Oakton Community College. He studied hard with his tutors to improve his reading, writing and computer skills. With encouragement from his tutors and his new and improved skills, Delfino entered the GED program and is planning to take the test soon. Delfino’s effort and improved knowledge did not go unnoticed at work. After 18 years, he was promoted to a new position. He credits his promotion to his tutor, Babette Simon, for teaching him reading, math and the measurement skills he needs to do his new job. Babette was a Spotlight on Service winner last year. Delfino is also better able to help his children with their schoolwork and can communicate with their teachers. He encouraged his daughter to study on-line and get her GED which she recently obtained. Now she is planning to attend college so she can get a better job. Delfino has made outstanding progress in just two years.
Bernice Husher, Kaskaskia College, Centralia
- Bernice Husher’s reading score has improved as well as her self-confidence. When she first met her tutor, it was hard for Bernice to make eye contact. Now she can meet her tutor as a friend with little or no self-consciousness. Her determination is an inspiration to all who work with her. She has a great desire to succeed. Bernice has faced obstacles. She and her husband both struggle with health issues. The restaurant where she worked for 11 years closed leaving her without a paycheck. But Bernice does not give up working toward her goal of a GED. Bernice also gives back to her community by volunteering at her church, the local food pantry, Girl Scouts and the recycling center. To quote her tutor, Beverly Wheatley (also a Spotlight on Service winner), “Bernice is one of the most responsible people I have worked with.”
Jerry Mezo, John A. Logan College, Carterville
- In Dec. of 2006 when they closed the Maytag Company plant, Jerry Mezo had worked there for 38 years. All this time, no one knew he could not read. He was quite clever about keeping that a secret. His wife took care of paying the bills and anything else that required reading and writing. When the plant closed, Jerry didn’t know what to do. The company sent everyone to an office in Marion to apply for the benefits they would get. They had a stack of forms to complete and that’s when Jerry admitted he could not read. At first they did not believe him. When they recommended he go to John A. Logan College to get help, he almost did not go. Now he thinks it was the best thing he ever did in his life. He was matched with a tutor at the Herrin City Library. Jerry told his tutor he wanted to read a book to his granddaughter. This was something he did not get to do with his own children. His tutor took him to the librarian to get help picking out a book to read from children’s section. The librarian also helped him get signed up for a library card. With the help of his tutor, he could read that simple book by the end of the next day. The door has opened for Jerry and he is learning to read, do some shopping, write checks, and use the ATM for the first time in his life. He took the constitution test and passed the test on the first try. Now he can vote for the first time. He has come so far in such a short time. His life has changed forever.
Christine Moeller, Illinois Eastern Community Colleges (Frontier), Fairfield
- Christine Moeller struggled with reading problems throughout her elementary and high school years. Severe medical problems interfered with Christine’s ability to learn and comprehend. After brain surgery, Christine has had to retrain her brain. She studies many hours each night repeating material over and over in order to comprehend and remember it. Living in a rural area, Christine has many miles to drive, often in bad weather, in order to improve her education. In spite of that, her attendance is perfect in her classes and tutoring sessions. With the help of her literacy tutor, she is learning to write sentences and paragraphs. She has begun a paraprofessional program at Frontier Community College. She has learned basic computer skills, has vastly improved her vocabulary and writing skills and is working on spelling skills. Christine is determined and works extremely hard for her achievements.
Roshonda Smith, De La Salle/Tolton Center, Chicago
- When Roshonda Smith ran away from home at fourteen, she dropped out of school. She became another statistic of a homeless child. Life on the street was brutal and she endured experiences that left her broken and devastated. When she finally reconnected with her family, she went to live with her grandmother to begin healing. With her grandmother’s encouragement, Roshonda enrolled at the Tolton Center. This was a very big move because no one in her family had ever graduated from high school. She began her first year with apprehension. She struggled with of lack of trust, lack of self-confidence and lack of motivation. She persisted and now in her second year has blossomed. She is showing a fierce determination to succeed. In fact she worked very hard and passed the GED test on the first try. It was definitely a joyful occasion. She was the keynote speaker for Tolton Center’s fall orientation. She is influencing her family as well. She tutors her little sister and her grandmother has expressed an interest in getting her GED. She has applied for an apartment of her own, submitted applications for college and is volunteering as a tutor and office aide at Tolton Center. Roshonda is “Opening her own doors and making positive changes in her life and the lives of others around her.” Robert Mathis, a Spotlight on Service winner, is one of Roshonda’s tutors.
2008 SPOTLIGHT ON SERVICE AWARDS
Secretary of State and State Librarian Jesse White and Sue Montalvo, Director of the Illinois First Amendment Center, representing the Illinois Press Association (IPA) presented the Spotlight Awards on May 14, 2008. The Spotlight on Service awards honored ten outstanding volunteer tutors of literacy students. Tutor winners received a plaque, a personalized Illinois Blue Book and $200 was donated by the IPA Foundation to the literacy program for which they volunteer. For more information, contact Diane Manning at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-665-5576, #3.
2008 SPOTLIGHT ON SERVICE WINNERS
Standing left to right: Sue Montalvo, Director of the Illinois First Amendment; Ruth Richert, Spoon River College Literacy Project, Macomb; Diana Schueler, YWCA Adult Literacy, Pekin; Tom Barbee, accepted Paul Strauss’ award, Blue Gargoyle Community Services, Chicago; Beverly Wheatley, Kaskaskia College, Centralia and Secretary of State and State Librarian Jesse White. Bottom row, left to right: Carol Randall, YWCA Adult Literacy, Pekin;, Robert Mathis, De La Salle Institute/Tolton Adult Education Center, Chicago; Ellen Hooker, Regional Office of Education – St. Clair County, Belleville and John Fendrich, Common Place Family Learning Center and LVA/Project U.P.W.A.R.D., Peoria.
Donald Bartak, Prairie State College, Chicago Heights; Robert Brown, Waubonsee Community College, Aurora, and Paul Strauss, Blue Gargoyle Community Services, Chicago, were unable to attend the event.
SPOTLIGHT ON SERVICE (TUTORS) STORIES
Donald Bartak, Prairie State College, Chicago Heights
- Not long after Donald Bartak became semi-retired and had double hip replacements, his wife announced she had enrolled in a Tutor Training class at Prairie State College. After the first class, she glowed with excitement about the class and tutoring and then suggested to Don that he might enjoy this class. She thought he would make a good math tutor. So he went to the next class and she was right. He enjoyed it and has been tutoring ever since. Math has always been easy for Don and he soon became known as “The Amazing Math-A-Don!” He was able to help students pass the GED — even those who had failed numerous times before. When the GED test changed, Don had to take a different approach to teaching and build the processes carefully. It is gratifying to Don to watch adults who feel beaten by simple math to begin to actually master the “demon” and benefit from this practical knowledge in their daily lives. Teaching students has become his mission.
Robert Brown, Waubonsee Community College, Aurora
- Robert is unable to be with us today but we still want to honor him by reading his story. Robert volunteers to pay it forward for the many things in his life that he is grateful for. He enjoys helping the students from different cultures and seeing their personalities revealed as they gain confidence in English. Robert not only helps the students with their writing assignments, but with the speeches that they give at their ESL graduation ceremony. He is present at each ceremony congratulating the students, meeting their families and taking pictures with them. It is a proud feeling to see the students he has come to know so well, graduate from the ESL program. Besides his classroom assistance, he offers one-to-one help as needed. While practicing English one day, a student shared his frustration about feeling inadequate with the business vocabulary and etiquette surrounding his present job. Robert wanted to help so he began meeting with the student outside of class one night a week. As the student became more comfortable with the job and with his peers, Robert learned about the student’s culture and traditions. It was an experience he will always remember.
John Fendrich, Common Place Family Learning Center and LVA/Project U.P.W.A.R.D., Peoria
- Two literacy programs in Peoria nominated John Fendrich. This is the first time that has ever happened. John retired after 45 years of teaching and instead of living a leisurely retirement, he works part-time at the Peoria Journal Star newspaper and is very active in tutoring adults at Common Place and LVA/Project U.P.W.A.R.D. He also teaches computer skills to mentally and physically challenged adults at the Workshop and Training Center and works with a teen group at Common Place. Being a father of six has prepared him to work with the teen age group successfully, too. Some of his adult learners have been an eighty-year-old man who sought help after a lifetime of successful work without the benefit of being able to read; a single, working mother of young children who received a high school diploma despite the fact that she couldn’t read; and an ESL student who is a successful professional engineer. John’s kindness, patience and concern for each student make him an effective tutor. He doesn’t give up easily and the students know this. He is amazed by the courage and dedication of people who have achieved or are trying to achieve productive lives. He is grateful that he has the time, health and opportunity to tutor adult learners.
Ellen Hooker, Regional Office of Education – St. Clair County, Belleville
- After retiring as a nurse, Ellen Hooker was looking for volunteer work with young people. She saw an ad in the local newspaper asking for volunteers for the adult literacy program at the Regional Office of Education – St. Clair County. After completing training, she was matched with a 26-year-old man who was a non-reader with severe learning disabilities. To keep this student’s interest, Ellen searched for newspaper articles, magazines and books about sports since this is something he showed a great interest in. She used words from the sports pages to teach him sight words. For the first year, she provided learning in the form of a newsletter featuring very short articles on sports. With his increased word list, this student is now able to read the sports pages. They look up batting averages, game scores and history on the Internet. As a result of his interest in the computer, Ellen taught him simple computer skills. He loved it and soon began writing his own articles about sports using the computer. When they first started working together, he told Ellen he did not like to read. He doesn’t say that anymore. It has been very rewarding for Ellen to watch this student make such progress in his reading ability.
Robert Mathis, De La Salle Institute/Tolton Adult Education Center, Chicago
- Robert Mathis could have chosen the relaxing path of a retired educator. But fortunately for the Tolton Center he did not. His wife, already a reading teacher at Tolton Center, invited Bob to “come and serve.” So he did and the road as a volunteer has made all the difference in the daily life of Bob. He can relate to the students since he experienced many of the same challenges they face in achieving their goals. Three students from the same family knew Bob when they were students at his elementary school. When they dropped out of high school, they knew they had someone who would help them find alternative schooling. Bob has been their guide and confidante every day. He gently eases their anger and frustrations with his kind, but firm words. He listens to them and they trust him with their deepest feelings. These students have progressed to pre-GED and GED classes. As parents, the success they are achieving extends to their children and other family members as well. One student was anxious, rude, argumentative, demanding and undisciplined when he entered the program at Tolton Center. With Bob’s help and guidance, he is now exhibiting better manners, patience, kindness and respect for himself and others. Bob helps to calm another student when she forgets to take her medicine. He is here to calm her and guide her back to a place where she can function more successfully. She would not be able to remain in their program without Bob’s intervention on a regular basis. Bob is referred to by a colleague at Tolton Center as the “Rock of Tolton” because of his strength and leadership ability. Bob is simply an awesome volunteer tutor with a great sense of humor. He inspires students and staff every day bringing hope for a better future.
Carol Randall, YWCA Adult Literacy, Pekin
- Carol Randall worked for the IL Department of Human Services/Public Aid for 38 years. In working with individuals or families, she saw on many occasions adults struggle to fill out applications or to even navigate their automated phone systems. Some of these people had no opportunity for formal education when they were young and they were often embarrassed to ask for help. Over her 20 years as a volunteer at the YWCA in Pekin, Carol has been able to make many people aware of literacy programs. For the past several years, she has worked with two developmentally disabled young women from a local group home. This has been an extremely rewarding experience as they improve their reading skills. These two women work very hard and are very proud of their accomplishments. Every week they meet at the Pekin Public Library. At the end of each class, they pick out books, videos and CD’s to take home for the upcoming week. Carol volunteers as a literacy tutor because programs like the one at the YWCA makes a difference in people’s lives.
Ruth Richert, Spoon River College Literacy Project, Macomb
- Thirteen years ago Ruth Richert took training to be a literacy tutor at Spoon River College on the Macomb campus. With a background as a teacher with degrees in Spanish, English, and bilingual-education, her first students were Spanish speakers who wanted to learn English. She has also worked with students on reading, speaking or studying for the GED. After retiring from teaching, she became a regular volunteer in three-hour ESL classes that meet twice a week. Students from many countries come to these classes. She not only helps her students improve their academic skills but also works on improving their self-esteem. Ruth quickly puts her students at ease with her quiet and gentle way. The fear and nervousness they feel disappears by the end of the first tutoring session spent with Ruth. Ruth is very generous with her time, talents, patience and compassion for her students. She will stay after class to help students or meet with students outside of class. She started with one student and now divides her time between eight. When asked if this is too many, she quickly responds with “We’ll be fine.”
Diana Schueler, YWCA Adult Literacy, Pekin
- Diana Schueler, another volunteer tutor that won from YWCA Adult Literacy, retired as a classroom room teacher after 35 years. However, she did not stay retired for long. After seeing a flyer about the YWCA Adult Literacy program at a retired teachers’ association meeting, she became a certified ESL tutor. A week later, she met with her first adult learner. This man spoke very limited English but wanted to become an American citizen. He is learning to speak, understand, read and write English. They use the computer every week which allows him to translate English to Italian. His understanding of English is mushrooming. Diane also helped put together a side-by-side English-Italian missal for him to use when he attends Mass. He has been having trouble following the Mass in English. This 76-year old man is committed to succeeding. Another student had no experience with food preparation so the American supermarket was a learning experience. “Field trips” to the grocery store helped this young woman. Diane also helped this student find an ESL program after she moved out-of-state. They still correspond through e-mail. Even through Diane loved being a classroom teacher, she tells everyone, “Being a volunteer tutor in this program is the best teaching job I ever had!”
Paul Strauss, Blue Gargoyle Community Services, Chicago
- As we mentioned before, Paul Strauss is Michael Dellar’s tutor. Paul is unable to be here today so Tom Barbee with the Blue Gargoyle program will accept his award. Michael and Paul are learning from each other and have developed a respect for each other. Paul is devoted to Michael and encourages his optimism in the face of his adversities. When Michael had to move out of his sister’s apartment, Paul helped him move to a new apartment. Paul’s confidence and steadfast support of Michael is instrumental in the rapid progress Michael is making. Paul wrote an essay about Michael. After reading it to him, Michael was inspired to write his own autobiographical essay as well as other stories on the computer. Since then, his spelling and comprehension has increased dramatically. There is no doubt that someday Michael will be able to get a high school GED. Michael has also made big changes in his personal life by becoming more independent and has a part-time paying job for the first time in his life. Paul says, “How often do we see that we have helped to make a concrete, positive, real change in someone else’s life? That is why I tutor.”
Beverly Wheatley, Kaskaskia College, Centralia
- As we mentioned before, Beverly Wheatley is Bernice Husher’s tutor. In the 15 years Beverly has been a tutor, she has also been her students’ mentor, confidante and counselor. She is a wonderful inspiration for those she serves as well as the staff she works with. Her enthusiasm for “The Reading Link” at Kaskaskia College is so contagious that her husband has become a tutor, too. In spite of personal sadness and tragedies, she found inner strength to continue serving others with energy and commitment. Beverly connects with the learners in a personal way by encouraging them to strive for their best and continue even though the journey to success seems long and hard. She volunteers to give back and wants to help those who are trying to improve their education. She feels that anything she can do to help is a wonderful opportunity. She exemplifies what a volunteer is all about.