When New Readers Press was planning its 2021–22 catalog, staff members agreed that they wanted to feature a current adult learner on the cover.
New Readers Press, ProLiteracy’s publishing division, was directed to the Syracuse Educational Opportunity Center (EOC), in Syracuse, New York, to find a student for the cover. EOC instructors were asked if they could nominate a learner who they felt embodies the spirit of adult education, someone who never let any obstacles hold them back.
Surprisingly—or maybe it was no surprise at the EOC—every instructor suggested Theresa Holden.
With a little coordination, a group from ProLiteracy and New Readers Press met Theresa in downtown Syracuse to capture the image you now see on the front cover of the new catalog. But, when you meet Theresa and talk to her about her life and educational experiences, realize there is so much more to her
It’s obvious why she was unanimously nominated by the EOC instructors. She is a force to be reckoned with and approaches her education fearlessly like it’s the launching pad for her future. And at 57, she is ready for liftoff.
“While we are here, we got to keep busy. You’ve got to keep your mind on what you are going to do,” she said.
Theresa left school in eighth grade to help her mother work the fields in Georgia. It wasn’t easy.
“That’s a life everyone’s got to get rid of!” she said.
Moving Toward the Future
In 1989, she moved to New York with her husband and five children, and despite everything else she’s been through, Theresa said finally getting from Georgia to New York was the biggest hurdle to a better future.
“Back home I had to help my mom,” she said. “I wanted to explore the world.”
Her first job in Syracuse was at a laundromat for a year. From there, she went on to work at a book binding company for 19 years before she was laid off.
While at that job, she often noticed the adult education program nearby. She saw opportunity.
“I couldn’t read that good,” Theresa said. “So, I said, ‘I got to get in that building.’”
When she enrolled, she was reading at a third- or fourth-grade level. Over 10 years later, she’s still with it, advancing level by level up to high school equivalency. Theresa has passed all but the math portion of the TASC high school equivalency exam. In addition to working, she attends class two days a week to study math.
While passing the math exam is the only thing holding her back from her ultimate goal of attending Onondaga Community College and going on to work in a hospital as a surgical assistant, Theresa doesn’t focus on what she hasn’t done yet, but what she has.
“Every step I went through, I am so proud of, because what I didn’t know, I learned,” she said.
She has the willpower to stay motivated, but she knows it’s not that easy for everyone. She knows that others who are thinking about taking the leap to enroll in an adult education class might feel overwhelmed or intimidated, but Theresa has faith in them, too.
“[They have to] stay focused and keep their mind straight ahead. They’ve got to be strong,” she said. “They’ll survive.”
Like Mother, Like Daughter
Theresa Holden took the experience of being laid off and used it to steer her life in a new direction. This determination seems to have rubbed off on her daughter Jasmine (seen with Theresa in picture above), who lost her job amidst the pandemic. Jasmine had a dream of writing a children’s book. So, rather than feeling sorry for herself, she took the moment to realize her dream. Her children’s book Daddy’s Coming has been released. Learn more about Jasmine and her book at www.authorjlholden.com