Celebrating Success

2021 Fall Graduates

We gathered to celebrate 31 graduates of the LearningQuest High School Equivalency (HSE) program at the Fall Graduation & Awards Night on October 28, 2021.  Over 150 guests attended the ceremony to honor the achievements of grads at the Martin G. Peterson Event Center in Downtown Modesto.  Awards were given to three students recognized for their dedication to earning their diploma and to an outstanding tutor in the Adult Literacy tutoring program.  

Rosario Banuelos was awarded for ‘The Most Improved”

for extraordinary improvement in skills needed for a diploma as the result of hard work, perseverance, commitment, and focus.


Shawn Elliott was awarded for “Greatest Achievement”

for the overall extraordinary effort in pursuing education, achieving goals, and inspiring future graduates.

Onorina Gonzalez was awarded for ‘Best Effort”

for extraordinary improvement in skills needed for a diploma as the result of hard work, perseverance, commitment, and focus.


John Arnold was awarded for “Tutor of Excellence”

for extraordinary acts of kindness, patience, compassion, and selflessness while helping others pursue and achieve educational goals.


Our Valedictorian and Student speaker, Jimmie Pridmore, shared his touching story of overcoming struggles and finding motivation even in the darkest moments.

“We all come from different backgrounds and have all had different experiences…But I finally have the chance to say ‘I did it!’ and you all did it too! So you should all be proud of yourselves.”

Jimmie Pidmore

Congratulations to the 2021 Fall Graduates:

Jaklin Amirikhosrowabadi

Richard Baldwin

Rosario Bañuelos +

Elisa Barba

Dustin A. Barnes *

Juana Cabrera

Denim Collins

Alejandra Vanessa Cruz Nuño

Shawn Elliott +

Nicolas Garibay II

Onorina Gonzalez +

Maria Fernanda Hernandez *

Dakota Lawson

Dulce Nayeli Lopez Aguilera

Corrine M. Loya

Erika Maldonado Corona *

David Manley *

Alliyah Melena

Elizabeth Mendoza

Christopher Morales

Amelia Muñoz Largaespalda

Benjamin Nuñez



Maria Teresa Nuño

Rosalba Ochoa *

Alejandro Ontiveros *

Maria del Carmen Oregon Gonzalez *

Angel Oregon-Gonzalez

Ruth Orozco Mora

Maria de los Angeles Peña Garcia

Jimmie D. Pridmore *~

Karina Juana Reategui

Mariah Sanchez

Lizeth Sosa-Gonzalez

Sharifa Suwaid

Kimokeo M. Swayne *

Leah Tacardon

Vanesa Tovar Carranza

Eliud Enrique Vega Garcia *

Orlanda Yaneth Vigil Becerra

Luz Del Carmen Vilchis



* Honors

~ Valedictorian

+ Award Winner

LearningQuest would like to thank all the dignitaries that participated in this special event, including Jenny Kenoyer from The Modesto City Council, Jacob Faulder from The Office of Senator Andreas Borgeas, Melissa Santos from The Office of Congressman Josh Harder, and Assistant Sheriff LaBarbera from The Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office.

To the Graduates, LearningQuest wishes you all the best for your future, and can’t wait to see all you become!

Fall LQ Connect – Connecting you with the lives you change

View the 2021 Fall LQ Connect newsletter as we focus on the Adult Literacy tutoring program in the library the people it impacts.  We say thank you to our volunteer tutors, see if there is anyone on that list that you may know and applaud their dedication to helping others learn to read and write.  Scroll the the pages below or click on the button to download the PDF version.

  • LQ Connect - Fall 2021 - Cover
  • LQ Connect - Fall 2021 - Adult Literacy
  • LQ Connect - Fall 2021 - Thank You Notes
  • LQ Connect - Fall 2021 - Announcements

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.

Keelers Keep Going

KidsQuest kid, Thomas Keeler

KidsQuest kid, Thomas Keeler

“He has so much more to say and prove then what he is able to. To watch him grow and struggle less with each session leaves us grateful and speechless.” 

-Carrie Keeler, Thomas’ mother

Thomas and his dad, Brian

Thomas and his dad, Brian

Parents, like Brian and Carrie Keeler, strive to find the resources to support their child’s development.  When their son, Thomas, showed signs of struggling with the alphabet at an early age they made it their mission to learn how to help him.  However, the journey to finding success for Thomas was not the simplest path.  Thomas received speech therapy at the Valley Mountain Regional Center and then evaluated when he entered public school at three years old.  His school came up with an individualized education program (IEP) for Thomas’ auditory processing disorder, but he was moved over to a private school in hopes of receiving even better support.  Carrie said, “I remember the IEP we had and how defeated we felt that we didn’t know much of the diagnosis or treatment.”


When Thomas returned to public school in first grade he fell further behind.  His teacher noticed Thomas’ struggle in class and requested to have another IEP set up for him – that was when the Keelers were introduced to the term “dyslexia.”  Since dyslexia wasn’t recognized as a diagnosis, they stuck with auditory processing disorder until Thomas was able to get an evaluation from Stanford.  Thomas’ full diagnosis of a specific learning disability and Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder was the stepping stone they needed to receive more services for him.


They joined a dyslexia support group for the Central Valley and Thomas resumed third-grade reading below a kindergarten level.  His teacher, also dyslexic herself, empathized with Thomas and poured more time and dedication into his growth.  He started to show improvement but began to plateau after eight months.  Carrie continued to seek resources for her son and found KidsQuest’s free one-on-one tutoring for dyslexic children.


Carrie said, “I needed more help than we could afford.  We started tutoring in November of 2019 and have never looked back.  Thomas has shown exponential growth since receiving the generous services he has been provided.  This program has meant the world to our family.  Thomas reads to me now which has been emotional and, although the struggle is still there, he feels safe in the comfort and support his tutors provide him.”  A year later, Thomas continues to thrive and has developed an immense love for reading.

Caring for Kelly’s Granddaughters

Lily and Ailee

Lily and Ailee posing for a picture.

Kelly Carreon knew that her granddaughters, Lily and Ailee, already struggled so much with reading.  The support services they had been receiving for years at school weren’t helping and distance learning during COVID made it worse.  Kelly searched for tutoring specialized in learning disorders to help them catch up and found KidsQuest.  Since enrolling the girls in January, they’ve been able to access trained tutors and the Barton Reading & Spelling System at no cost. Kelly says,

“I can’t express enough how much it means that there are people out there who care. When I pick them up from their tutoring sessions, they’re just beaming.”

Here’s our interview with Kelly…

LearningQuest (LQ):  Tell us about education and literacy in your family.

Kelly (K):  As far as I can remember, I have never had problems with learning.  I went all the way up to college, but I didn’t get my degree.  Still, I never really struggled so when I saw my granddaughters (Lily, 11 years old, and Ailee, 9 years old) struggling, I really was kind of at a disadvantage.  I didn’t understand that there were people who actually struggled in comprehending or learning.  It honestly opened my eyes to something I didn’t really understand. 

So when they were struggling, I didn’t know how to handle it. I did my research and looked around, but ultimately I felt like I didn’t have the tools to help them myself.  Their mother never had difficulty with reading, writing, or math.  Now that I think about it, my mother (their great grandmother) had a lot of difficulty with learning.  She struggled a lot with it.  I wonder if it skipped generations. I see some similarities between the girls and my mother.  When COVID happened and they started to do distance learning at home, I started seeing they were having trouble.  I knew that with the school, I mean they do the best they can with what they have, but the school programs didn’t seem to be enough to help them.  They’ve been going to those since they were in kindergarten or first grade I believe.

LQ:  What is it that keeps you committed to helping your grandchildren reach their literacy goals?

K:  I worried.  I want them to get all the help they need so they don’t have to struggle their whole lives.  I don’t want them to be at a disadvantage in life.  It makes me so happy to see them making strides.  As I said, I have seen how their enthusiasm has increased when it comes to learning.  When I pick them up from their tutoring sessions, they are just beaming.  They feel so accomplished in what they do and it makes me proud.  We love reading with them.  Just the other day, the youngest was asking my  husband, “I want Piggy and Gerald books grandpa!”  He saw the books at Target the other day and we read it together.  Both of their enthusiasm has changed dramatically since starting the program. 

LQ:  How has KidsQuest helped your family?

K:  I’ve looked into the different systems like the Barton system and they are just so expensive.  You know, some of these programs are hundreds of dollars.  So it was really nice to find out there was a free program out there that would help them.  I saw a flyer one day and quickly took a picture.  I can’t express enough how much it means to me that there are people out there who care.  Because of them, there is a program like this to help people at no extra cost.  I wish I could thank every single one of the supporters in person.  Their tutors have been just so great.  Domonique and Daniela have been incredible with them.  The girls never feel put down or anything by them and it just seems like a perfect fit.  Thank you for what you do. 

LQ:  What advice do you have for parents with children who are struggling with reading and writing?

K:  Just be patient.  Patience is key, especially during these times.  Patience is key.

Ailee and Lily reading

Lily and Ailee reading some of their favorite books.

Third Time’s the Charm for Kevin

Kevin posing with his degree.

Kevin proudly showing off his academic achievement award.

LearningQuest (LQ): What was your story before LearningQuest? 


Kevin (K): “I always had trouble as a kid with school.  I had a problem with authority and I feel like my attention span just wasn’t there.  When mom and I would sit down to do homework we would bump heads even though I had a desire to learn and get more knowledge.  She just couldn’t keep my focus and the same happened in the classroom.  I was able to work with several teachers and go to resource groups, but I didn’t really understand the importance of education. 


The last grade I ever completed was eighth grade.  I had some trouble at home: divorced parents, father wasn’t around, and I just didn’t have that guidance or somebody there to tell me, ‘Hey look, you’re gonna need math someday,’ or, ‘You’re gonna wanna help your own kids with their homework someday.’


In ninth grade I got into drugs and alcohol because I was going through depression and suicidal tendencies.  I managed to make it to about a month left of school when the vice principal told me that I could go on to the 10th grade with D’s or that maybe high school was not for me.  Being a misguided youth, I thought to myself, ‘Well, I have a choice,’ so I decided to drop out of high school. 


Years go by and I see my friends graduate and get their diplomas, it just made me fall into a deeper depression. Time goes on and I find I can get a job without a diploma and it just pushes school away.  When I was in my late 20s I tried going back to school to get my GED, but it was just the same thing – my attention span wasn’t there.  I didn’t feel like I had the focus that was needed to get through school, so I dropped out again. 

More years pass and I have kids.  My oldest son didn’t graduate so I saw myself in him and I did not want that for him.  My second son really took to school and graduated from Beyer High School.  I felt a sense of accomplishment through him because I got to see him walk the stage to get his diploma and I always had that burn inside of me to get my diploma – I just never had the confidence.  


LQ: What finally inspired you to try again and stick to it?

K: I went to jail and I was getting ready to have a daughter at 44 years old so I started to think to myself, ‘Do I want her to walk down the same path that I did or do I want to educate myself so that when she gets into school I can help her with homework or projects?’ She was a motivating force that lit that fire inside me. 

I wanted to get a better career so I can provide a better future for my daughter so I joined LearningQuest while I was in jail and met Abraham.  The little kid in me that got lost for so long finally found his teacher in Abraham.  He gave me that confidence I needed with school and I just gave it my all, studied, and finally grasped what was being taught to me.  It was just something I always wanted in my life.  I couldn’t be involved with conversations when people said, ‘I got my High School diploma,’ because it always hit me hard.  It was like that little boy inside me was crying and now I had the opportunity to get my high school diploma – I owe it all to LearningQuest.  It was the best experience of my life.  I can now join in those conversations and say, ‘Yeah, I went back to school at 44 and got my diploma.’ 

LQ: Was there ever a moment when you wanted to give up again?


K: There was one time I was in class with Abraham and there was some kind of Algebra 2 problem, I just couldn’t get the answer fast enough.  I remember saying something about doubting myself and he told me, ‘We don’t talk like that.’  Any doubt that I had was shattered with the unconditional support he showed me.  It was just a brief moment, but I never wanted to give up.  The people around me, like my daughter’s mom, were super supportive.  It was cool whenever I got the certificates for each test that I passed, I got to show my mom some 20 years later the certificates and the diploma.  It gets me choked up thinking about watching her cry with joy.  There is no bad experience whatsoever and any doubt I may have had I was greeted with the unconditional help and love that was needed to get through what I missed. 


LQ: How long have you been sober?


K: I have been clean now for 13 months and 11 days.  I made a plan with my daughter’s mom, that we wouldn’t try for a baby until I got clean and my daughter was born last June.  She has never seen that person and God willing she never will.  I’ve got to do the things I’ve got to do to make sure it never happens.  


LQ: What are your plans for the future?


K: I joined another program while incarcerated to get a career in truck driving.  They said, ‘Hey, you need to get a diploma.’  Now that I have my diploma and permit, I am in truck driving school and plan to get a job locally.  One of my dreams is to work with people who are struggling with addiction.  Having a diploma will help me get into a junior college and help me pursue that dream later on. 

Kevin and his family

Kevin and his family posing for a photo.

2020 Annual Impact Report

  • 2020 Annual Impact Report
  • 2020 Annual Impact Report (1)
  • 2020 Annual Impact Report (2)
  • 2020 Annual Impact Report (3)
  • 2020 Annual Impact Report (4)
  • 2020 Annual Impact Report (5)
  • 2020 Annual Impact Report (6)

Manuel Makes It!

Manuel Maciel

In his own words…

Manuel Maciel tells his story of the impact of learning to read. He is currently being tutored in our library literacy program by George King who volunteers his time to teach him reading. Manuel was asked to tell his story at Awards Night where he was honored with the award for Most Improved in Literacy and again at the September Modesto City Council meeting.


“My name is Manuel Maciel. I was born in northern Africa in 1966 and stayed there until I was seven years old. We moved to Portugal and then the Azores Islands and then to the United States, all during 1974. I spoke an African dialect and Portuguese but no English.

I started school in this country in Modesto in the third grade. I picked up spoken English within one year but struggled with reading and writing because my family moved many times.

I was placed in special education immediately because I was behind in reading and writing. I remained in special education classes until the beginning of my senior year of high school when I dropped out to work full time at a dairy. In spite of being in school for nine years I never learned to read and write.

I spent time working for Campbell Soup in Modesto for almost five years, but most of my full-time work was in agriculture.

I was able to get by without reading and writing because my relatives would do any paperwork I needed done.

I finally made the decision to learn to read and write because I couldn’t get a job without those skills, and I had a three year old daughter. I turned to the county for assistance and they wanted to place me in a work program. But when they found out I couldn’t read or write they put me into this literacy program.

At first I attended because I had to but when I started to learn to read and could read to my little girl I began to put more time and energy into my studies. Now I can use a computer, text on my phone, read to my daughter and learn subjects like history and science. My latest test showed that I am now reading at the sixth grade level and I am now focusing my goal on getting my GED.

LearningQuest gave me a second chance to be a better parent to my daughter because I can now help her as she goes through school and once I get my GED I know I can use my mechanical skills with my diploma to get a good job.”

– Manuel Maciel

Elijah Stays on Track

Meet Elijah Bixby…

Elijah with his pet mouse and his piano.

Elijah with his pet mouse and his piano.

Elijah Bixby found a new way of reaching a goal that helped him learn more about himself and move onward without skipping a beat.  Even though his family split up when he was in second grade, Elijah still had a very supportive upbringing in Ceres, California with plans to finish school just like any other child.  However, by seventh grade and with his motivation at an all-time low, his normal days of school ended.


Elijah said, “I was an outcast at school.  One day I was walking out of class when a guy ran up, punched me in the face, and chased me down the halls.  I was always told as a kid not to be violent, so I am super pacifistic.  After that, I was still trying to do good in school, but because the kid got suspended his friends decided it was my fault and were going to jump me.  At that point, I was pulled out.  I was always taught to try my best in school, but there was a long while where I stopped caring because of all the pressures I had.”


“Just keep going at it. It can be really rough at times and feel almost impossible, you just have to give it your all no matter how difficult it may see.”

– Elijah Bixby, 2020 Grad 

Elijah enrolled in online classes at Connections Academy until he was in 11th grade.  He found a supportive group of friends that helped him find the confidence to take another shot.  He said, “ I was able to grow more and because of that, I wanted to finish off my education at a real high school – so I went back!  Unfortunately, it was at the beginning of 2020 when COVID happened so it didn’t last for long.”  Elijah found out that the credits transferred weren’t enough to earn his diploma which would mean taking even more time to graduate.  In fear of being left behind as a “Super Senior” he came across another option.


A friend’s father mentioned a GED as another way of finishing high school and, after speaking with his mother about it, learned that a family friend had success at LearningQuest.  Elijah said, “I didn’t really know what to expect to be honest, I just knew this was a different method of getting my education and I really enjoyed it.” Already in the school routine and motivated to work hard, Elijah started LearningQuest classes at the end of July 2020 and in only three short months earned his diploma!

Elijah smiling for a picture with his mom and two sisters.

Elijah smiling for a picture with his mom and two sisters.

With plans to begin classes at Modesto Junior College in the Spring of 2021, Elijah is considering studying Music or Psychology, “I am just really interested in the idea of helping people.  I think having the resources there is important.  I know it really helped me a lot so I want to be there to help other people.  I plan to start applying for a job [and] becoming more independent.  I would like to support my mom.  We’ve never lived in a house that we owned and if I could help her in getting a house, I would like to, especially for my younger siblings.  I really would like to help them because they have helped me throughout my life.


Elijah shared advice for fellow students and thoughts to those who helped him achieve his goal, “Just keep going at it.  It can be really rough at times and feel almost impossible, you just have to give it your all no matter how difficult it may seem.  I might be a younger student, but it’s really nice to see how supportive LearningQuest is, especially for adults who are going back to get their diploma.  Thanks to everyone’s support.  I had the motivation and determination to make it this far so I’ll make sure to go even further for everyone.”

Impact a student today!