Denise first noticed the literacy crisis in our county when she was still working as a nurse practitioner, she said, “I recognized that a lot of people have really low-level reading skills…It made doing health care more difficult both for them and me too. Not that I minded it, but it would take more time to explain and have them repeat things.” Seeing the daily struggles of her patients, she knew that she had to make a difference. That’s when Denise learned about the opportunity to teach adults how to read and write in LearningQuest’s Adult Literacy program at the library. Once she retired, she made it her mission to become a volunteer tutor to help adults learn to read and write.
Unfortunately, just as Denise began her journey as a tutor, our community was struck by the effects of the pandemic. While LearningQuest transitioned from in-person to online services in order to keep serving students, programs were briefly paused. Despite the quarantine shutdown, Denise remained committed to staying in contact with her students. As soon as programs were given the okay to resume, Denise jumped right back into outdoor tutoring sessions as if no time had passed. The two students she works with now are both Afghanistan refugees who continue to impress her each day, Denise says, “They both have dreams of going to college one day. One wants to be a pharmacist and the other wants to be a graphic designer… Helping them to learn in order to achieve their goals has been very gratifying.”
What surprised Denise most about being a tutor was how much she has learned from her students, she says, “I’ve learned a lot about the hardships of my students and what they’ve gone through. They see it as life and they really have a “can do” attitude. When I’m thinking about something that seems hard to do, I think about them and think ‘Well, I can do it. If I just start, I can do it!’.”
Denise is grateful that the adult literacy program exists for people like her students, and encourages anyone who might not know where to start to just take that first step, she says, “I think LearningQuest is a wonderful environment because people are very accepting and non-judgemental. If you come in and don’t even know the alphabet, then we’ll help you learn the alphabet and go from there. So I would say don’t hesitate. Even if you’re embarrassed, come in anyway…Everyone starts somewhere. Some of us started in Kindergarten and first grade, and some of us started when we were 40. It doesn’t matter when you begin a journey so long as you take the first step and begin.”