Top Five Finalist

LEARNINGQUEST | MODESTO, CA


About the Finalist:

"LearningQuest – Stanislaus Literacy Centers is a nonprofit headquartered in Modesto, California, with easy-to-access sites throughout Stanislaus County. With many adults in our community facing illiteracy, like elementary grade reading levels and 53,000 not graduating from high school, we answer that crisis by providing free services for adults looking to change their lives by finally earning their diploma, improving their reading and writing skills, or learning English. Originally created by the Volunteer Center to provide tutoring in order to support the literacy needs of local canneries in 1985, 

LearningQuest has evolved over the years to reflect the additional services required by the community, such as adding Jail, Family Literacy, and College/Career programs. Having helped more than 10,000 adults on their educational journey, we continue to serve the people in our community with the hope that one day literacy will be seen for what it is: a human right fundamental to the success of the family and self."

Website:  https://lqslc.com/






JUDGING CRITERIA


VIDEO | PHOTOS | STORIES





Arowa's Promise

Arowa was born and raised in the traditional culture of Yemen where she was entitled to the Bride Price for her hand in marriage. Instead of demanding material items like money, clothes, or a house, she made her fiancé promise to provide her with an education. He agreed, but did not follow through after the wedding...that was just the beginning of Arowa’s story.

It seemed that the goal of education was put behind her when, after two years of marriage and two daughters, her husband moved their family to the United States. Now in Texas with young children at home, Arowa’s husband had forbidden her from any type of schooling so she could care for them. After a third daughter was born and reached four years old, another request to gain an education was denied.

Arowa stayed vigilant and took it upon herself to find a way to gain the education she was promised. Being resourceful, she began selling items on eBay; with the $100 earned every month, she was able to afford an online course for a high school diploma. However, she kept dealing with the constant issue of having limited English skills, taking hours to type product descriptions and answer buyer questions on eBay. The online course was difficult for her as well, “I really didn’t understand anything because I had to translate everything and it was very hard.”

In 2012, her children were school-aged and Arowa was looking forward to attending the local college, but her husband remained opposed to the idea of education and intervened, “My husband did not want me to get my high school diploma so he moved us to California and made sure I got pregnant again.”

A year after her son was born, Arowa’s mother had heart surgery and she was needed in New York to care for her. Her husband said that she was allowed to go, but to leave all four children with him; he planned to quit his job to care them while she way away. Arowa pleaded with him to at least let her take their one year old son, especially since he was still breast- feeding. He reluctantly agreed.

Her flight out was cancelled and she was faced with a dilemma while waiting at the airport, “I had no money and the phone he gave me had no minutes, so I was stuck with a baby and had to get help from strangers so I could call my husband.” Unfortunately, that was not the last of her struggles.

After leaving California, Arowa discovered that her husband had secretly planned to take their daughters to Yemen while she was away. By the time she realized his plot, it was too late and they had already left the country.

Now divorced, it has been four years since her daughters were taken and she still waits and searches for them. Her ex-husband and daughters have returned somewhere in the States, but she is unable to find his exact location while he works only for cash, leaving no trail to follow, “I don’t know if I will ever see my daughters again.”

Currently living with her mother and son, Arowa remains strong fighting for her education and hoping for her daughters to return to her. She found LearningQuest and, in just over a year, improved her English skills and earned her High School Equivalency Diploma. As a Fall 2017 LearningQuest graduate, she is now a student worker at MJC and is already pushing through her second semester. Dreams of nursing school are in sight and have become achievable. The odds were stacked against her, but Arowa continues to succeed by staying determined and full of hope.


David's Path

David Geren is one of LearningQuest’s graduates from the High School Equivalency program at the Oakdale site. Raised in a stable family, David chose to make decisions that caused his path to intervene with time in prison. Although he was briefly enrolled in the HSE program at LearningQuest before incarceration, he was forced to halt his educational development. Prison allowed David time to analyze his choices and after his release, he gained full custody of his son. As a single father wanting to give his son a better life, he grew determined to improve himself.

David said, “I used to be on drugs, I used to get incarcerated, get locked up. I used to be in a bad relationship. Now I’m single, went to self-help groups and I’m clean, almost been clean a year. It’s time to get a real job, that why I’m going through the GED program. I could work construction under the table, [but] I don’t want to do that; I’ve got a son now, I want to get benefits. I want to have a career.”

Rejoining the HSE program and dealing with finding reliable child care, he stayed focused, “I put one foot in front of the other and showed up every day. I came ready and prepared to learn, and did my best.”

David appreciated the classroom and instructor support he received because it kept him accountable, “It’s great that the organization has a classroom with other students because by myself I don’t know if I would’ve studied. With the teachers, they helped a lot. I passed them [tests] all on the first try. It wasn’t because I knew everything; it was because the teachers helped me learn what I needed to learn to pass the test.”

He understood that the hard work was only temporary and that reaching his goal of getting into a trade school and finding a career was worth it, “If you get your GED there’s all kinds of doors that are more available to better your life. It’s a big confidence builder. A month ago I was down in the dirts, I [couldn’t] get good a job, I [didn’t] have a GED. Now here I am with my GED and good to go onto college...ready to move forward.”

David’s advice to current and future students: “It’s possible, it’s achievable. I’m 29 so I’ve been trying to get this for many years now, it’s not like it happened overnight. Never give up, it’s never too late. Keep on going. It doesn’t take long to turn your life around. Within a year I’ve turned my life around 100%. Keep reaching out to people and programs out there that are there to help. Because of the GED program...everyone in this organization who’s...been willing to help me better myself: that’s really a blessing.”


Juan: Changing for the Better from English to Diploma

Juan is a true example of what dedication and determination can achieve. Juan came to this country in 2002 hoping to establish roots and have a better future. He quickly realized that his dreams were harder to attain not knowing English or having a high school diploma. His parents raised him to never give up and to always strive for better, so he worked whatever jobs he could find, from washing dishes at different restaurants to agricultural work in the fields.

Struggling to get by and feeling alone in this country he found himself starting to spiral out of control, leading him to homelessness and drug abuse. He knew that he needed to regain control of his life and seek help because nobody was going to change it for him. He joined different programs in the community to get him back on his feet by finding work and enrolling in English classes at El Concilio. Soon after, he was married and became a father. His family inspired him to be the best version of himself from then on. As his English improved, more opportunities became available for him at work. Juan began to look for more classes to better himself and enrolled with LearningQuest in 2017, eager to start the ESL and Spanish HSE classes.

Juan has always been an exceptional student. Like many others, he has a busy life working full time and having a family to support. However, he never let that be an excuse to “take it easy” in either classes, continuing to be an overachiever in his class. He says he had to learn how to be organized and prioritize his work. He said he knew that if you really want to accomplish something you could work really hard and you will reach your goals faster than you think.

Every week, Juan studied and did homework before and after his shift, then headed straight to evening classes until 8 pm. The hard work and dedication to his studies paid off when he got the news he had passed his last test, finally earning his High School Equivalency diploma! His English skills have improved immensely, still taking advantage of every opportunity to practice with whoever will talk with him.

Juan received his diploma in just five short months, but his goals did not stop there. He is still enrolled in ESL classes at LearningQuest, but now at the highest ESL level. He knows that improving his English skills will only open more doors in the future. In addition to taking English classes, he is also enrolled at MJC and taking classes that will help him start a career as an electrician. The classes have helped him improve his education, but have also helped him on a more personal level.

He said he has gained confidence in himself and what he can accomplish, now encouraging his fellow classmates and anyone thinking about changing their life to just do it. He is excited for what the future has in store for him. He says that the rewards of our hard work are worth the struggle, you will never regret the knowledge and accomplishments you have gained along the way.


Past Struggles & New Beginnings

Over the past 30 years, we have been moved most by the stories of success and life change that education brings. Three of these faces are people working in our organization so they inspire us daily. Kristina dreamed of being a teacher and found the calling she had been searching for. Michael struggled to reach his goals at a young age, now he is able to teach those lessons in his own class. Suzanna faced doubt during her studies, but now uses that to encourage students. Their stories give them the passion to help students reach their goals toward new beginnings.

Kristina always knew that she wanted a different future for herself. She decided to make a change after a past full of negative role models, drugs, having her first child at a young age and needing steady employment. Kristina knew she needed to earn her high school equivalency (HSE) diploma and quickly graduated from ReadingWorks (now LearningQuest). Soon after, her childhood dream to become a teacher led to tutoring, “I absolutely loved it. I would relate to students and be able to go down to their level, making it easier for them to understand.” Kristina is now a LearningQuest Instructor with her own classroom and expectations to earn a degree after her children finish college. She believes that “the more people we can reach, the more lives we are helping. The good we do changes so many lives.”

Kristina’s fellow instructor, Michael, grew up in Modesto with seven siblings. He dropped out of school, faced homelessness, alcohol, and a brief time in jail. He learned about Stanislaus Literacy Centers (now LearningQuest) from his sister, Suzanna. After Michael graduated from the HSE program, he became a tutor and made a commitment to each of his students, “Every day I would catch a bus at 6 a.m., take two buses to Turlock, then tutor from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.” Michael worked diligently to earn an instructor position, “I studied so hard, night and day. I went in for the interview and I got the job, that was about six years ago.” Michael continues to teach because “everyone has a story, most not great, but they do have a story built on a shambled life. I want to give people the chance to do what I’ve done and continue to do. A lot of people are diamonds in the rough waiting to be found.”

As Michael’s older sister, Suzanna had a similar experience growing up. She cared for her siblings, unable to return to school after eighth grade. After some years, Suzanna wanted a better life for her son, “I heard about ReadingWorks [now LearningQuest] from the Welfare program and wanted to go back to school.” After graduating from the program, she worked as a tutor helping many improve their reading skills and inspired seven other people in her family to attend LearningQuest. When Suzanna doubted her intelligence and learning ability, her teacher would continue to give encouragement instead. Now, Suzanna tells all the students, “You got this! If I could make it, then everyone can do it.” Suzanna is the Administrative Assistant at LearningQuest and taking classes online with MJC to become a guidance counselor, “I love helping people and love to see them succeed because I know the struggle. I want to help people who think they don’t have anyone there and provide the resources they need.”

Their stories are special and still so similar to those waiting for a chance to improve through literacy. Kristina, Michael and Suzanna have become advocates for helping people reach their goals by sharpening the literacy tools needed to find a job and so much more. Their hard work and dedication to each student shows that success is a goal achieved one day at a time. At LearningQuest, new beginnings are within reach for all students, making it possible for greater stories ahead.



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