Denise Finds a Way to Make a Change

Denise, dedicated LQ tutor since January of 2020, with her fur-friend, Benji

Denise, dedicated LQ tutor since January of 2020, with her fur-friend, Benji

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.”

Abdul Fights for His Family

Abdul receiving his Literacy Network Award

Abdul receiving his Literacy Network Award

Abdul was nominated by LQ's program coordinator, Rose Jurado

Abdul was nominated by LQ’s program coordinator, Rose Jurado

Growing up in Afghanistan, Abdul Darwe remembers the struggles his family had to face on a daily basis.   In addition to the raging war and unrest happening in the country, his family also struggled financially.  His father would wake up early every morning to sell fruits and vegetables on the street to earn money for his family.  Even though life was hard, Abdul still enjoyed a childhood of days spent playing soccer with his friends.

Unfortunately, when he was eleven years old, Abdul was hit by a truck that crushed his leg under the weight of the tire.  He was immediately taken to the hospital where he underwent four surgeries to save his leg, but eventually, the doctor said they would need to amputate it. His father didn’t want the surgery for him and took him home instead. Abdul remembers “crying every night in pain,” but he continued to build his strength.

As time went on, Abdul and his family lived in constant fear and became desperate to leave Afghanistan. In 2010, tragedy struck the Darwe family. Abdul’s father became ill and passed away, leaving 17-year-old Abdul to take care of his mother and two sisters. They fled to Pakistan for safety, but civil unrest continued to haunt them. Refusing to give up, Abdul took any job he could to save money. After many interviews and fighting through long work hours, Abdul and his family were granted visas into the United States. Abdul was filled with such raw emotion, that he began crying as he was telling us how relieved and happy he was at the chance of a peaceful life.

Abdul’s goal had always been to survive and make sure that his family was safe.  Now, he and his family no longer had to live in fear.  Since being in the United States, Abdul has been able to develop a new goal, he said, “I decided to focus on my education because when I was in Afghanistan I did not have the chance to go to school… [by learning how to read and write] I can be more independent and help and support my family.”  With this new dream, Abdul began his journey for literacy at MJC’s English learner program, but knew he needed more help.  He decided to also begin one-on-one tutoring with LearningQuest’s Adult Literacy program in the Stanislaus County Library.

Every day, Abdul gets stronger and stronger with his English skills.  He even won the Literacy Network Award for “Literacy Achievement.”  Abdul said, “I want to learn English fluently and then get my GED, and after that, study to become a nurse.”  He recently got a job at an ice cream company where his accomplishments have inspired his sisters to enroll in LearningQuest’s GED program.  Although he limps due to his childhood injury, Abdul doesn’t let anything stop him as he continues to smile and help his family any way he can.