Amy’s story (by Rebecca Massey, Adult Literacy Program Director)

It has been almost a year since Amy passed the GED exam and earned her high school equivalency diploma (HSE). She worked extremely hard, week after week, with her math tutor Emily. She reached a goal that she didn’t even believe was possible until the moment it happened. But from my perspective, earning the HSE was the beginning of Amy’s story, not the end. 
After the high of that great achievement — which was supposed to get her on the fast-track to a better job, higher pay, and more financial security to support her kids as a single mom — she was pulled down again by her criminal record.
Every time she was turned down for a job because of her record, the promise of a better future seemed to be slipping away again. But this summer, Amy finally found her path in a job that is fulfilling, meaningful, transforming her life, and transforming her community. Please listen to her incredible story here and in her emails below.  
It’s officially the end of my first two weeks at Sunrise Community and it feels like a dream. If it is, I don’t ever wanna wake up. We went to a recovery rally in Cherokee today and it was UNBELIEVABLE! I was in the massage booth getting a massage and I cried. I was so overwhelmed with emotion because I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to have fun! We ate, we danced, we sang, we played and we just had so much fun together. I love this job so much. And I’m so grateful for all of the things that did NOT work out that led to this. 

It’s so crazy how life is made up of so many seemingly small choices that lead to life altering experiences. Good or bad. The day I chose to reach out to you for help with my GED was the beginning of something miraculous. It led to a life I never would have imagined having. […] And if you get the chance, please relay my appreciation to Emily. And let her know I made it. 
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Ariella’s story: “I came to America in my 50s, and I could not read or write”

Ariella and her tutor Penny have been working together for four years. They are devoted not only to the difficult work of building literacy skills; they’re also devoted to each other. I asked Ariella if she would share her story through writing — her experience with dyslexia, her extreme test anxiety, her tutoring partnership with Penny, and the transformations that have taken place in her life because of this work. Ariella wanted to write this narrative for other students so they know it is always possible to make a new life for themselves through literacy. 

Penny has been inspired by Ariella from the moment they met four years ago, and she had this to say about her story:

It is her journey and as she was reading it to me, I could hear initially the fear, the memories of embarrassment and finally the triumph of her journey. I hope you hear the same. She said I could polish it up, give it a shine. There is no shining brighter than this.

This is Ariella’s amazing story:

“I came to America in my 50s, and I could not read or write. I knew from a very young age that I have dyslexia. My mother tried to get me help, but was not able to because of the teachers/principals at the schools. What happened was when my Mother spoke to the principal about my dyslexia, she told my Mother she should not worry because I had a pretty face and I would get someone to look after me. I was 10 years old.  

So when I was growing up, I learned skills to mask my ability not to be able to read or write. I was very good at memorizing things, hiding and stepping away from when I needed to write. My mother would say that I was the smartest one in the house if I only could read. I don’t know that was true but it helped when I always thought I was stupid because I couldn’t read and write. It definitely was a barrier to what I know now I could’ve achieved had I had those skills and the people to help.  

When I came to America I was very worried about how I was going to cope without the skills. My daughter and I talked and she did research into getting me help. Once I came here, she found Literacy Together and made an appointment for me as soon as I came here to go and meet Rebecca. As you can imagine I was very nervous. This was a very big thing for me and had impacted my entire life. I had tried as an adult back home to get help and to go to classes, but they were no different than when I was at school, which was to say a word, learn it, which did not work for me or in my opinion, any dyslexic person. So, as Rebecca talked I just knew that this was going to be different. She said that I would be paired up with a tutor that she thought would suit me and I would suit them. She was so right. 

Soon after, I met my amazing Penny. I could see straight away why Rebecca had chosen Penny for me. She was perfect. I felt confident. I trusted her and how she began to teach me was completely different from the way I had been taught at home. We began with the vowels and she told me the sounds and also the consonants and their sounds.  

Then she moved on to what I have never been told before. Words are made up of patterns and how to break them up and how they connect to loads of different words. This was like a light bulb being switched on in every class we did. It was amazing. It seemed to be everywhere here you have forms to fill in all the time which is my worst nightmare. Every time I had to go to the Dr. I had to take someone with me. It was my worst nightmare. With Penny‘s help, I have learned so so much. I can fill in my own forms.

I never worry. 

I don’t have to take anybody with me to do it for me.

I can be independent.  

Then I found the love of reading which I now absolutely adore. Reading is everything. I can now do what children and adults around me were fit to do all my life. It’s like stepping into their world.  Dyslexic people are in one box and all the other people of the world are in the other box and now I can find the door to the box. I always loved listening to audiobooks, murder mysteries, and autobiographies and now, I can read them myself with my own voice in my head not listening to a stranger.  

Still sometimes it’s hard. When I’m tired or stressed, the dyslexia comes flooding back, especially when I have to do the yearly test which to me is a nightmare. I panic every time, no matter what Rebecca or Penny says to me. When I walk into the room I still get very stressed and my dyslexia comes back. The first 15-20 minutes are the worst. Everything on the page is what I call Chinese writing and I cannot read Chinese. My brain flicks back to all the times when I was in school and I have to do exams. I do not see any of the words properly even though now I can read words, spell words and break down sounds to make words. When it comes to the exam, the dyslexia comes back with a vengeance. 

I feel over the moon to be able to pick up a book or magazine and be able to read and enjoy them. I am not perfect yet. A lot of the times the spelling is a big stumbling block, but I do have much more skills to be able to figure it out mostly. I enjoy the learning so much. I would say to anybody who started off like me please, please go for it because as I say, it’s just like a light bulb going on in your head every single class.”

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Thank you, Cindy!

On June 30th, 2023, Literacy Together’s staff said goodbye to Cindy Threlkeld on her last day as Executive Director (LuAnn joined us from New York!). We’ve been so appreciative of her leadership, her kindness, and her sense of humor. All the best, Cindy! Enjoy your retirement and your time with Gracie!

Read Cindy’s farewell message:

“June 30 will be my last day as the Executive Director of Literacy Together as I retire after almost four years in the role. It has been an honor to serve an organization that lives up to its mission of transforming lives and communities through the power of literacy.  

It takes time, patience, and tenacity to overcome the myriad of obstacles that stand in the way of learning a new language or achieving the goal of earning a GED. The synergy between our volunteer tutors and adult learners is inspirational. For elementary students struggling to keep up with their peers, working with an understanding adult or an energetic youth intern builds the confidence and skills to break through the fog towards a world of possibility. For families with children under five, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library provides free books to instill a love of reading from infancy to kindergarten. Literacy Together’s commitment to lifelong learning truly comes to fruition through our core programs.

I’ve been blessed to work alongside an amazing team of staff, volunteers, donors, community partners, and board members—people who are passionate about ensuring that everyone has access to literacy. I’ll miss the excitement and the personal satisfaction of working together to make that happen. 

The Transition Committee appointed by the Board worked diligently to select the right person to become the new Executive Director. Watch for that announcement in the next newsletter! I am excited about what they will bring to the organization and look forward to staying in touch.”

With gratitude,

Cindy Threlkeld

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Literacy Together welcomes new Executive Director, Amanda Wrublewski

Amanda smiling in outdoor photo

Amanda smiling in outdoor photoAfter an extensive search, Literacy Together is pleased to announce the selection of its new Executive Director, Amanda Wrublewski. Amanda is a Western North Carolina native. She was a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia when she powerfully connected with the importance of literacy and the inequity of access.

Amanda says, “As Executive Director, I commit to deeply understanding and evaluating our community’s many barriers to literacy. I will dedicate myself to working alongside the Literacy Together team to dismantle those barriers. It will be an honor to learn from a team of experts already doing this work so well while offering my perspective and guidance.”

Amanda was most recently the Vice President of Programs at Big Brothers Big Sisters of WNC, coordinating an 18-county region. Before that, she was the Program Supervisor at Swannanoa Correctional Facility, developing service plans to support and connect incarcerated women with needed assistance. 

Amanda begins her role in July, succeeding Cindy Threlkeld, who has served as Literacy Together’s Executive Director since 2019. Cindy is retiring June 30, leaving Literacy Together an expanded organization through her experience and guidance.

Literacy Together’s Board Chair, Marilyn Cortes, says, “Under Cindy’s leadership, Literacy Together has experienced tremendous growth as an organization by strengthening the four existing core programs; English for Speakers of Other Languages, Adult Literacy, Youth Literacy, and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library® and by developing new programs. We are excited for Amanda to join our team and continue with our mission of changing lives in our community through the power of literacy.”

Literacy Together has served Buncombe County for over 37 years providing free tutoring to meet the literacy and English language needs of people of all ages in Buncombe County. Our vision is for a just and equitable community in which literacy is accessible and achievable by all.

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Adult Literacy Program: David’s success story

David is a beautiful, creative, driven, and rare person in this world that we are grateful to know through our GED tutoring program. In this interview, David shares his experience with ADHD and dyslexia, two commonly intertwined learning disabilities/differences. While ADHD and dyslexia have been significant obstacles in David’s education, they have also been the source of his uniqueness and artistry, which he expresses through drag. You can find him performing as Ophelia Love at O. Henry’s, Asheville Beauty Academy, Miss Gay Latina, and other drag shows in the Asheville area. 

David’s essay explores the role that art, performance, beauty, passion, and PRIDE have played in his life. He chose to write this essay with spellcheck off and completely unedited so the audience can get a small glimpse into how language works in the mind of a dyslexic person. “Ophelia Ballet” is a complicated, liberated work of art — just like David himself:

Ophelia Balla

“I wish that you could see the ballai that in my mind. Each day we all straggle with something. I have learned new ways to adapet to these curstamances. To give you some background this is how I interpret my mind through music dance and performing. My bally is about me reaching for my dreams as a female inpersonater. Lets take a trip through my mind t let you see how beautiful I am. Not to be confused I know that I am beautiful and I love myself and proud of what  I have became as an entertainer. My balla starts with the three people and the main charter as Ophelia love and the struggles from her life that are from the past to present. Ophelia started out dancing as kid. Throughout the years she would learned this was they only thing that help me get through those though times. Then engment between these three people would last a life time though that never happen as we all got older and parted our ways. I think of those days and remember how it impacted me in ways no one would be able to usndertand. I’ve yet to perform this on any stage. But one day everyone will see the inter beauty that has come a long with this understanding. The music is soft a then travels through others people body mind and soal. Then is transfered  into the mind of a dancer that dose not know how to tell anyone of this gift in fear that it would be taken from them. As the music slowly reaches Ophelia she in transvered to  different unitferse and starts to think of what is happen to her. Then she come to the conclusion that maybe she is craxy but that not the true. I once read something that I could alawalys rember this qout “To be Or not to be which was written by William Shakespears. Wow how much this would inspire Ophelia. Ophelia begen to wonder how this would be perceived though the other dancers only to find that she was the only on that would be able to see it. I then beagn to dance as if I was a ballarrina only to have people make fun of me. This didn’t stop me I know that I would on day be able to perform it on stage. That time has come but have to work with dancers that don’t know. This such a scury thing I want people to see the interbeauty inside of Ophelia only to tell her she not any good or that she has talent.”

Would you like to support students like David? Learn how to become an Adult Literacy Program volunteer tutor!

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