Below, in her own words with minor editing, is Alejandra’s story.
My story is not too different from other people who immigrated to this great nation. I was born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras in Central America. In that country it is so difficult to move forward because of the poor economic situation and the criminal and gang activities that make this beautiful country a dangerous place to live. Becoming a single mom after six years of marriage, I found myself in a challenging and dangerous situation and had to make the difficult decision to immigrate to the United States of America. When I came here, I left behind my four-year old daughter Genesis and my dream to be a psychologist That was not an easy decision but I had the idea that I could do something for my daughter and me – for both our lives.
Soon after getting to the United States I was arrested and sent to a detention center. Thinking about being detained for three months was devastating and at that moment I felt I would die. I had had a hard and traumatic adolescence, but this experience in prison made me lose my confidence, and it broke my spirit. Thanks to my grandmother and aunt I was eventually released from detention. When I was freed, I started to work first and second shifts. I worked so hard with the sole intention of bringing my little daughter Genesis to me. In my free time I tried to learn English, and I applied to a university to try to continue my education. The door to a college education was closed to me because I did not have the language or the support to find the resources. So, once again I decided to leave behind my dream of continuing to study. Instead, I concentrated on working to pay for my legal documentation and bringing my daughter to this country.
In 2005 the fruits of my labors were realized as I became a Permanent Resident of the United States. Now I had the opportunity to go to my country to see my daughter, who at that time was 7 years old, and to try to get a legal visa to bring her to this country. The whole trauma took a long year, but in 2006 I obtained a resident card for Genesis. I began a new cycle of my life with my daughter and my fiancé Ronny, who is now my husband. In a short time I was pregnant with my second daughter, and in 2007 Isabella was born. In 2009 Ronny and I decided to move to North Carolina to try to find a tranquil way of life.
In 2013 I found myself tired and unhappy with where I was in my life and with the work I was doing. I made a decision to come back to school to learn English at Blue Ridge Community College in their ESL program. There I found again the ghost that has been following me for my whole student life: a learning disability named dyslexia. But this time I decided not to hide anymore - I decided to learn English and not to be beaten by this disability. While in that program, I heard about individual tutoring that was offered at Blue Ridge Literacy Council. I was lucky the Coordinator of the ESL program, Cindy Jefferson, was such a nice woman, and she spoke Spanish. That way I had the opportunity to explain my disability and express the needs that I had. I remember this was the first time in my life that I recognized that I needed help and that the dyslexia was interfering when I tried to learn this language. After she finished listening, intently and calmly to everything that I said, Cindy made an appointment for me to take a reading test. A short time later she introduced me to my new tutor, Kathryn Rodgers.
This extraordinary woman became a key piece of my future success. Everything began with three hours a week of tutoring. On one occasion I expressed some of my frustrations to Kathryn and she realized that I was feeling upset because I thought I would never be able to realize my academic goals. I believed then, that at 30 years old, my opportunity to study was over. But Cindy and Kathryn encouraged me to use other resources that were available at Blue Ridge Community College and helped me as I pursued my goals. Over the next several months, I passed the GED test, completed the Career Readiness Certificate, and gained admission to the Certified Nurse Aide I (CNA I) course that was offered at the College. By the spring of 2014, I had earned the CNA I Certificate, passed the Nurse Aide I State Registry exam, and had secured a job in a retirement facility.
After hours and hours of hard work both with my tutor and by myself, I started 2014 as a more secure and confident woman because of the support I have received and the gains I have made. I am glad I found this amazing organization – Blue Ridge Literacy Council is a wonderful resource in this community. They offer free tutoring, using volunteers, to give Henderson County residents who want it, the opportunity to advance and grow academically and personally. I appreciate Blue Ridge Literacy Council, Cindy Jefferson, Kathryn Rodgers and all those who make it possible for this program to continue to be available.
Postscript 10/2015: Alejandra was BRLC’s ESL Student of the Year 2014
To further enhance her job skills, Alejandra completed the Medication Aide course at Blue Ridge Community College and is currently studying for the state certification exam. She also has a better job that she loves working in a hospice facility.
My first mistake was quitting school in Mexico. I was pregnant and embarrassed to stay in school. I thought it was a good decision, but I made my mom feel so bad.
My second mistake was leaving home and living with the father of my kids. He was violent in many ways. I could not make my own decisions. My mom wanted to give me support, but he would not allow it, which I permitted.
After I had the opportunity to come to the United States, I decided to change my life. I started to work in a restaurant even though I didn’t speak English. This was the first job in my life. I was very happy. I started making biscuits, meeting new people, learning new positions and learning a little more English. I felt important, useful and independent. I progressed from crew, making biscuits, to shift leader, to helping the manager, to co-manager, and finally assistant unit director. I still did not speak much English, but I learned my job by watching, taking notes and working hard. The restaurant wanted to promote me again - to unit manager – if I could speak more English.
Everything was going well at work, but I was still in that abusive relationship until I became tired and finally opened my eyes. I realized it was not good for me or my kids. I decided to separate. I went to Mainstay where I learned about the Literacy Council. I came to BRLC to learn English and got the courage to end that relationship.
With the help of my BRLC tutors my English improved and, even though I was scared, I was finally able to accept the new promotion. I am also studying for the GED. When my English is very good, I want to become a tutor myself.
I want to improve myself, make up for past mistakes and to make my mom happy. People can make their dreams their reality. Mistakes in the past cannot stop your dreams. It’s never too late.
Postscript 10-2015: When her employer decided to open a new restaurant last year, Idaly was given full responsibility for interviewing, hiring, and supervising the opening and operation of the facility.
Dawn (Tutor) and Michelle (Student)
Team Work At Its Best
Transforming lives is a stated goal of the Blue Ridge Literacy Council. And yes, this occurs with improvement in reading, writing and English communication. What is unstated is how the lives of a student and tutor are transformed through their work together. Test scores measure students’ literacy growth and progress and are instrumental in verifying the success of the BRLC’s programs. Yet, there is no single test or paper certificate that can measure and capture the tremendous bond that is forged between a student and tutor. When that happens, lives are transformed and true change happens.
True change is expressed best by Michelle, my student, who says that in the 21/2 years we have worked together she “grew as a person”. Unquestionably her reading comprehension “grew” four grade levels within 9 months! But more importantly is the intangible growth that Michelle has made. Again in her own words: “I am willing to try to new things; I am able to speak out; and I am motivated to set new goals for myself”.
In the same breath, Michelle says to me: “We are a team. We can laugh together, cry together and most of all have fun together.” Michelle and I do have a special bond. As she grows in her confidence so do I. As she is willing to try new things, so am I. For example, we explored computer classes at the Library. We volunteered at the BRCC’s book fair. We sold the book Voices at Hendersonville’s Garden Festival. We completed the job certificate pretesting offered by NC Works. We are currently taking a course at BRCC about the Heritage and History of Henderson County. We are exploring volunteering options at Elizabeth House. And, I will go with Michelle when she bravely and resolutely attends the orientation prior to applying to the Certified Nursing Aide program at BRCC.
Together we have journeyed along paths each of us would never have taken alone. As Michelle says, “Together, we have come a long way in a short time!” Her new experiences are my new experiences. Her personal growth reflects my personal growth. Her true joy in our friendship is my true joy.
Our experience with the Blue Ridge Literacy Council continues as a Win-Win for both of us. Yet, I suspect our shared story is not unique. The lives of so many of the Literacy Council’s students and tutors have been forever changed by their work together. This is transformation in its truest sense.
Hello, my name is Nibia. I came to the United States and Hendersonville six years ago from Cuba.
I went to the Literacy Council to get help with my English. I wanted to be able to read, write and understand English better. I have been working with my tutor, Henry Clancy, since September 2015. He has helped me a lot.
I work in the cafeteria at Flat Rock Middle School. I have been there for four years and like working there. Last year I decided I also wanted to drive a school bus. To do this I would have to get a Commercial Driver's License. I had to take a fifteen hour course and pass four tests, all in English. I did it! Because of my tutor who helped me learn better English, I was able to take the course, pass the tests and get my CDL
I now drive a school bus every morning to take children to Etowah Elementary School. I like driving the school bus and helping the little children. Then, I return home and go to my cafeteria job at Flat Rock Middle School. My next goal is to become a citizen and I am studying hard for that now.