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.”

 

 

We need you!

Your TIME changes LIVES

Your time is what LearningQuest students need to succeed. Share your wisdom as a volunteer tutor and change someone’s life!

 

2 – Part Orientation and Training

Starts: January 25, 2018 at 7:00 am at the Modesto Library, 1500 I St.

Small, one-time $10 fee for materials

 

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

Isabel Eicher’s Story

At the 2017 Spring Graduation ceremony, Isabel Eicher delivered a memorable speech based on struggle and success.  She allowed us to understand and appreciate the experience of realizing self-worth and determination in which every LearningQuest student can relate.  Here is her story…

2017 Graduation Speech

Isabel Eicher

Good afternoon everyone, my name is Isabel Eicher and I am very happy to be here with you all today. I would like to share a little about myself and my time at LearningQuest. When I was a young adult I wasn’t able to finish high school because I moved to the United States. I wanted to continue my education but the language barrier made it very difficult. Everything was new and I was not accustomed to this new culture. I had a hard time trying to continue my education in this country because I had to work to help my family in Mexico. So I took it upon myself to learn English. Since I was unable to attend a school I went to the public libraries, where I received tutoring in English as a Second Language (ESL). As time passed I learned English, but I still wanted to finish my basic education. This was my second challenge, finding a place that offered basic education in my native language, Spanish.

Finally I found a place, LearningQuest. I called and was put on their waitlist for a few months and finally got the call to start classes. When I started I loved the way the teacher explained (things). Certain things she did made it easy to understand. Our teacher, Isela is very intelligent and a great inspiration to her students, that lead me to have a deep respect for her. She would leave us tons of homework and I soon realized how difficult it was to balance my job, my home duties and my school work. Getting to class on-time was the most difficult part. I would drive from work in Livermore to class here in Modesto. I would be stuck in traffic for an hour and a half or more. Despite not being able to be in class on-time I managed to pass 4 out of 5 tests my first try. Math is my favorite subject, but was the most difficult to pass. Luckily I passed it on my last attempt and I couldn’t believe it. I felt so many emotions, I didn’t think it was real.

I would like to give thanks to the LearningQuest staff for being able to be here today. And a special thanks to my teachers — Isela, Brenda and Victor also to Estefania and my classmates. Being in this program was a very warming and positive experience. Today I receive my High School Equivalency Certificate and am continuing my education at Modesto Junior College this semester. My goal is to become a Business Administrator of a large company.

Thanks to Learning Quest I can now continue on to fulfill that goal. Congratulations to all the graduates here today. WE DID IT!

20 years of tutoring = 20 years of joy

Literacy tutor John Comer has been at it awhile. Almost 20 years in fact. When John and his wife, Leslie, relocated to Modesto from the Bay Area, John was looking for volunteer opportunities. “Hey,” he said to himself, “I’m an educated guy… I’ll bet I could share my knowledge and experience with others.”
Indeed, John, recently retired from a 40-year career as a graphic artist, had already tried his hand at tutoring, working with Afghani and Chinese immigrants, helping them to assimilate into our culture by working with them to improve their English skills.

 John Comer and student

John came to LearningQuest – then Stanislaus Literacy Centers – in 2000 and has worked with a number of adult students over the years. One of his former students, he recalls, telephoned him recently to say hello. “That meant a lot to me,” he says. “I find that with tutoring, friendships often develop.” He is currently working with Ruben, a grandfather, who has always struggled with reading. One of nine children, Ruben was always good with his hands, excelling in woodshop and other manual tasks, but reading was always difficult. “John takes his time with me,” says Ruben. “He is very patient and understands me.”

Although John, now a young 85, has been tutoring for almost two decades, he finds that students are generally the same, at least in their desire to learn.. Almost without exception, he says, they are committed, eager, and willing to work hard to achieve their goals.

For John, a Korean veteran who also volunteers with his church in outreach and community service work, the main goal in working with students, aside from improving their literacy skills, is to help them be confident and productive citizens. “I ask myself, how can I help this student feel like an accepted member of our community,” he says. This is especially important, he says, with students who are new to our country and learning to navigate social and cultural obstacles on their way toward assimilation.

As with many LearningQuest tutors, learning is a two-way street. “I am gaining as much as my students,” says John, who likes to learn new things. “By teaching them, I am learning more about the world.”

Never too late to realize the dream of college

Bob tutoring Erica       Bob and student Erica

Love brought Erica Gomez to the U.S. 16 years ago. Her childhood sweetheart had immigrated to California and he missed her terribly. A high school graduate in her hometown of Medallin, Colombia, Erica worked in a bank.  But she believed in her future husband and a more prosperous future so she followed him and they were married. Now 42 and with two children, Erica is a student at LearningQuest’s Adult Literacy program. (Read more link here)…

Erica works with tutor, Robert Dowd,to improve her English so she can enroll in Child Development courses at Modesto Junior College to pursue her goal of becoming a teacher and work with autistic children.

She learned about the literacy program from a friend. “It’s a good program,” she said. “The people – Natalie and the staff  – are very helpful, and my tutor understands and encourages me.” One challenge Erica faces is in practicing her English skills. As often happens with female students, her family – who all are bilingual and speak English well – do not encourage Erica to speak English at home. She enrolled at non-credit ESL classes at MJC where she has more opportunities to practice her English.

“Erica is determined to learn and succeed,” says Dowd, who is also helping Erica to navigate the educational system in her native Colombia in hopes of having her high school diploma transferred and recognized by MJC. However, if that doesn’t work, Erica has the option of attending LearningQuest’s HSE program, which offers High School Equivalency preparation in both English and Spanish.

Love and determination: an unstoppable combination, at least where Erica is concerned.

Student follow her heart and her dreams

 

Bob and student Erica

 

Love brought Erica Gomez to the U.S. 16 years ago. Her childhood sweetheart had immigrated to California and he missed her terribly. A high school graduate in her hometown of Medallin, Colombia, Erica worked in a bank.  But she believed in her future husband and a more prosperous future so she followed him and they were married. Now 42 and with two children, Erica is a student at LearningQuest’s Adult Literacy program. (Read more link here)…

Erica works with tutor, Robert Dowd,to improve her English so she can enroll in Child Development courses at Modesto Junior College to pursue her goal of becoming a teacher and work with autistic children.

 

Bob tutoring Erica

She learned about the literacy program from a friend. “It’s a good program,” she said. “The people – Natalie and the staff  – are very helpful, and my tutor understands and encourages me.” One challenge Erica faces is in practicing her English skills. As often happens with female students, her family – who all are bilingual and speak English well – do not encourage Erica to speak English at home. She enrolled at non-credit ESL classes at MJC where she has more opportunities to practice her English.

“Erica is determined to learn and succeed,” says Dowd, who is also helping Erica to navigate the educational system in her native Colombia in hopes of having her high school diploma transferred and recognized by MJC. However, if that doesn’t work, Erica has the option of attending LearningQuest’s HSE program, which offers High School Equivalency preparation in both English and Spanish.

Erica

Love and determination: an unstoppable combination, at least where Erica is concerned.

LQ college prep program offers a clear path from probation to college

When Veronica Nunez was released from County Jail, she was determined to continue her education. While incarcerated, Nunez had earned her HSE (High School Equivalency) certificated through LearningQuest’s jail program. Her goal was to go to college, but like many students, early placement testing showed she would need remedial work in math before beginning college-level courses. In Nunez’s case, this would have meant up to four semesters of non-credit courses, costing time and money that she did not have.

Fortunately, Nunez was able to benefit from a new college prep program created by LearningQuest to help motivated students who are currently on probation, prepare for the college placement test. LQ Program Director Hallie VanDeventer initiated the program in response to data which showed that many students who enter college begin with remedial classes and take too long to reach their goal; many students grow discouraged and drop out. The goal of LQ’s college prep class is to help students prepare for the college placement test so that they can score higher and begin at college level instead of with remedial classes.

Isela
“The college prep program serves students who are still in probation and are high school graduates, students with a HSE or students about to obtain their HSE and what to go to college,” states Correctional Program Manager Isela Gutierrez, pictured above. Along with Jail Instructor Zachary Lake, Gutierrez provides instruction at Day Reporting Center and inside the jail..

For Nunez and others on probation who will soon be exiting the correctional system, the program offers the chance to continue her education and stay on track for a better life after incarceration. With high recidivism rates a sad reality, the program offers an alternative to highly motivated individuals like Nunez who are eager to move forward and succeed.