Believing in Herself Pays Off for Crista Davis

Written by: Denise Nordell


Overcoming obstacles is a common theme among LearningQuest students. Sometimes the obstacles are tangible: difficult family situations, learning disabilities, trouble with the law, poverty or substance abuse. Sometimes the obstacles are internal, as Crista Davis can attest.

Crista’s biggest challenge was her self-doubt and struggles with feeling overwhelmed. But then she enrolled in Enterprise RESTART, which she credits with putting her back on track to pursue her goals. With the intervention of a guidance counselor and attending a program to work on her self-confidence she began to believe in herself, recognize her abilities and overcome her fears.

Crista reached out to Social Services in 2017 and a supervisor referred her to LearningQuest. Academically, Crista found math and writing to be her most difficult subjects. “But the instructors believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself,” she says, and she was able to complete her GED in a little less than two years. Crista is especially grateful to instructors Jason and Hallie, as well as Rosie and Reyna, who helped with her transition out of the program. She is also thankful to family members who supported her along the way, especially her sister, Lakisha, who traveled from San Jose to see Crista graduate in March.

Crista had more than her share of personal difficulties, including living in foster care and being a single mother of four. Along the way she would tell herself, “If I could overcome other obstacles in my life, I could do this, too.” The journey has not been easy, but Crista is hopeful and enthusiastic about the future. Her next step is to continue her education and to someday work with the community, helping others who are struggling with problems she has faced herself. According to Crista, “There is always a way out.”

Crista has come to realize that everything that she believed about herself was nothing more than the negative talk of others who wanted to tear her down. What advice does Crista have for someone who is thinking about getting a GED? “Use your life experience and believe in yourself,” she says. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t!”


We Made it to Graduation!

In only six months, the goal of helping 90 HSE students graduate was within reach…

LearningQuest instructors worked with the students every chance they could to prepare them to earn that shimmering certificate.  Zachary Lake, an instructor recently awarded for his proactive attitude in the organization, tells his students “…that each step they take and each day they come to class to prepare leads them that much closer to realizing their dreams for success.”

In order to walk the stage at the Graduation & Awards Night, LearningQuest High School Equivalency (HSE) students were required to pass 5 tests in the following subjects: Math, Reading, Writing, Science and Social Studies.  They had to show up and work hard, even if it became difficult or if life aligned them with another hurdle to jump.  Zachary said, “I tell them that they should already feel pride in their decision to obtain their HSE, it is time worth spent. The challenges they face help make them more successful in the future and not only help them reach their goal of getting their HSE, but have far reaching positive consequences toward their overall success in life, whether through college, a career or beyond.”


Finally on March 30th, 2018, LearningQuest honored 89 graduates and 3 award winners:

Best Effort: Crista Davis

Most Improved: Mayra Gonzalez

Greatest Achievement: Juan Hernandez


There was a buzz of excitement and nervousness as the graduates mingled behind the Modesto High School auditorium, dressing in their purple cap and gown.  A sense of relief and nostalgia floated around them as they talked with instructors and reminisced with classmates on shared struggles and memorable moments.  Spirits soared as they walked into a cheering auditorium with “Pomp and Circumstance” trumpeting them down the aisle and into their seats.  Grinning, they crossed the stage as their names were called, and after the ceremony ended, dispersed into the crowds of roaring chants and embraces from proud family and friends.

Their time with LearningQuest was brief, but nonetheless a distinct instance where the path toward better things has become even more of a possibility.  These graduates have changed our lives as much as we have changed theirs and we wish them the best in everything they do.

Congratulations again to the 2018 Spring LearningQuest Graduates!

Success after graduation: Michael Enriguez

Michael Enriquez graduated from Learning Quest Stanislaus Literacy Centers in 2012.  Since graduating, Michael has worked in the construction field and is currently employed with California Drywall doing metal stud framing and sheetrock. He is also attending classes with the goal of receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree in Construction Management.

He is so thankful for the staff and volunteer tutors for being so helpful.   When asked what advice would he give to a current student, Michael stated, “Stick it out when you feel like giving up; it is well worth it.  If I had given up, I would not have been able to land a very well paying and rewarding career. That piece of paper is the start to a bright future.”

Michael appreciates quality time with his family which includes his fiance, three children and one more on the way.  In his spare time, also likes visiting San Francisco, hiking and fishing.  Great job Michael, we are so happy for your success!

Just in time to become a Tutor!

Don’t miss the upcoming Volunteer Tutor Orientation and Training!

  • Real impact on improving someone else’s life
  • Flexible schedule
  • One-on-one volunteer tutoring at the Modesto Library and other sites that work for you
  • Tutors and students are matched based on schedule and skill level
  • LearningQuest staff are readily available for support
  • Training on tutoring and literacy standards before getting started



Tutor Orientation

Modesto Library, 100 I St.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

7:00 pm – 7:30 pm


Tutor Training

Modesto Library, 100 I St.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

11:30 am – 3:00 pm


Call 209-558-4505 to reserve your spot!


LearningQuest, the adult literacy program for Stanislaus County, provides training for volunteers 18 years and older who would like to become a reading tutor for an adult.  The training will give new tutors the knowledge needed to teach effectively, including: the special dynamics of an adult learner, the differences in how people learn, the use of the Laubach phonics-based system of teaching reading, plus other literacy materials. All tutors receive ongoing staff support and there is no further cost for materials.  There is a small and one-time $10 fee to cover the expense of materials. If, for any reason, you cannot afford the cost of the training, please request a cost waiver when registering.





Arowa’s Promise

Arowa Ghazi was born and raised in the traditional culture of Yemen where she was entitled to the Bride Price for her hand in marriage.  Instead of demanding material items like money, clothes, or a house, she made her fiancé promise to provide her with an education.  He agreed, but did not follow through after the wedding…that was just the beginning of Arowa’s story.

It seemed that the goal of education was put behind her when, after two years of marriage and two daughters, her husband moved their family to the United States.  Now in Texas with young children at home, Arowa’s husband had forbidden her from any type of schooling so she could care for them.  After a third daughter was born and reached four years old, another request to gain an education was denied.

Arowa stayed vigilant and took it upon herself to find a way to gain the education she was promised.  Being resourceful, she began selling items on eBay; with the $100 earned every month, she was able to afford an online course for a high school diploma.  However, she kept dealing with the constant issue of having limited English skills, taking hours to type product descriptions and answer buyer questions on eBay.  The online course was difficult for her as well, “I really didn’t understand anything because I had to translate everything and it was very hard.”

In 2012, her children were school-aged and Arowa was looking forward to attending the local college, but her husband remained opposed to the idea of education and intervened, “My husband did not want me to get my high school diploma so he moved us to California and made sure I got pregnant again.”

A year after her son was born, Arowa’s mother had heart surgery and she was needed in New York to care for her.  Her husband said that she was allowed to go, but to leave all four children with him; he planned to quit his job to care them while she way away.  Arowa pleaded with him to at least let her take their one year old son, especially since he was still breast-feeding.   He reluctantly agreed.

Her flight out was cancelled and she was faced with a dilemma while waiting at the airport, “I had no money and the phone he gave me had no minutes, so I was stuck with a baby and had to get help from strangers so I could call my husband.”  Unfortunately, that was not the last of her struggles.

After leaving California, Arowa discovered that her husband had secretly planned to take their daughters to Yemen while she was away.  By the time she realized his plot, it was too late and they had already left the country.

Now divorced, it has been four years since her daughters were taken and she still waits and searches for them.   Her ex-husband and daughters have returned somewhere in the States, but she is unable to find his exact location while he works only for cash, leaving no trail to follow, “I don’t know if I will ever see my daughters again.”

Currently living with her mother and son, Arowa remains strong fighting for her education and hoping for her daughters to return to her.  She found LearningQuest and, in just over a year, improved her English skills and earned her High School Equivalency Diploma.  As a Fall 2017 LearningQuest graduate, she is now a student worker at MJC and is already pushing through her second semester.  Dreams of nursing school are in sight and have become achievable.  The odds were stacked against her, but Arowa continues to succeed by staying determined and full of hope.

Meet David…

David Geren is one of LearningQuest’s most recent graduates from the High School Equivalency program at the Oakdale site.  Raised in a stable family, David chose to make decisions that caused his path to intervene with time in prison.  Although he was briefly enrolled in the HSE program at LearningQuest before incarceration, he was forced to halt his educational development.  Prison allowed David time to analyze his choices and after his release, he gained full custody of his son.  As a single father wanting to give his son a better life, he grew determined to improve himself.

David said, “I used to be on drugs, I used to get incarcerated, get locked up.  I used to be in a bad relationship.  Now I’m single, went to self-help groups and I’m clean, almost been clean a year.  It’s time to get a real job, that why I’m going through the GED program.   I could work construction under the table, [but] I don’t want to do that; I’ve got a son now, I want to get benefits.  I want to have a career.”

Rejoining the HSE program and dealing with finding reliable child care, he stayed focused, “I put one foot in front of the other and showed up every day. I came ready and prepared to learn, and did my best.”

David appreciated the classroom and instructor support he received because it kept him accountable, “It’s great that the organization has a classroom with other students because by myself I don’t know if I would’ve studied.  With the teachers, they helped a lot. I passed them [tests] all on the first try.  It wasn’t because I knew everything; it was because the teachers helped me learn what I needed to learn to pass the test.”

He understood that the hard work was only temporary and that reaching his goal of getting into a trade school and finding a career was worth it, “If you get your GED there’s all kinds of doors that are more available to better your life.  It’s a big confidence builder.  A month ago I was down in the dirts, I [couldn’t] get good a job, I [didn’t] have a GED.  Now here I am with my GED and good to go onto college…ready to move forward.”

David’s advice to current and future students: “It’s possible, it’s achievable.  I’m 29 so I’ve been trying to get this for many years now, it’s not like it happened overnight.  Never give up, it’s never too late.  Keep on going.  It doesn’t take long to turn your life around.  Within a year I’ve turned my life around 100%.   Keep reaching out to people and programs out there that are there to help.  Because of the GED program…everyone in this organization who’s…been willing to help me better myself: that’s really a blessing.”



Past Struggles & New Beginnings

Meet three LearningQuest staff members who began as students and now use their personal experience to bring the best service to their students.


Kristina Miller, Michael Holson and Suzanna Holson


New Beginnings

In my years of involvement with literacy, I have been moved most by the stories of success and life change that education brings. Three of these faces are people working in our organization so they inspire me daily. Kristina Miller dreamed of being a teacher and found the calling she had been searching for. Michael Holson struggled to reach his goals at a young age, now he is able to teach those lessons in his own class. Suzanna Holson faced doubt during her studies, but now uses that to encourage students. Their stories give them the passion to help students reach their goals toward new beginnings.

Kristina Miller always knew that she wanted a different future for herself. She decided to make a change after a past full of negative role models, drugs, having her first child at a young age and needing steady employment. Kristina knew she needed to earn her high school equivalency (HSE) diploma and quickly graduated from ReadingWorks (now LearningQuest). Soon after, her childhood dream to become a teacher led to tutoring, “I absolutely loved it. I would relate to students and be able to go down to their level, making it easier for them to understand.” Kristina is now a LearningQuest Instructor with her own classroom and expectations to earn a degree after her children finish college. She believes that “the more people we can reach, the more lives we are helping. The good we do changes so many lives.”

Kristina’s fellow instructor, Michael Holson, grew up in Modesto with seven siblings. He dropped out of school, faced homelessness, alcohol, and a brief time in jail. He learned about Stanislaus Literacy Centers (now LearningQuest) from his sister, Suzanna. After Michael graduated from the HSE program, he became a tutor and made a commitment to each of his students, “Every day I would catch a bus at 6 a.m., take two buses to Turlock, then tutor from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.” Michael worked diligently to earn an instructor position, “I studied so hard, night and day. I went in for the interview and I got the job, that was about six years ago.” Michael continues to teach because “everyone has a story, most not great, but they do have a story built on a shambled life. I want to give people the chance to do what I’ve done and continue to do. A lot of people are diamonds in the rough waiting to be found.”

As Michael’s older sister, Suzanna Holson had a similar experience growing up. She cared for her siblings, unable to return to school after eighth grade. After some years, Suzanna wanted a better life for her son, “I heard about ReadingWorks [now LearningQuest] from the Welfare program and wanted to go back to school.” After graduating from the program, she worked as a tutor helping many improve their reading skills and inspired seven other people in her family to attend LearningQuest. When Suzanna doubted her intelligence and learning ability, her teacher would continue to give encouragement instead. Now, Suzanna tells all the students, “You got this! If I could make it, then everyone can do it.” Suzanna is the Administrative Assistant at LearningQuest and taking classes online with MJC to become a guidance counselor, “I love helping people and love to see them succeed because I know the struggle. I want to help people who think they don’t have anyone there and provide the resources they need.”

Their stories are special and still so similar to those waiting for a chance to improve through literacy. Kristina, Michael and Suzanna have become advocates for helping people reach their goals by sharpening the literacy tools needed to find a job and so much more. Their hard work and dedication to each student shows that success is a goal achieved one day at a time. At LearningQuest, new beginnings are within reach for the students, making it possible for greater stories ahead.


– Karen Williams

LearningQuest – Stanislaus Literacy Centers

Executive Director