Success Stories

August 2015

August 2015

When Lupe came to Literacy Together in the fall of 2013, he was already reading and speaking English at a high-intermediate level but did not know how to write in English. He’d been in the US for several years – since he was 16 years old – but had never attended school here. Now he runs a successful construction business where his steadily-improving writing skills are put to good use in communication with both suppliers and clients. In addition, he delights in his increasing ability to help his young son with homework, which is something he was not able to do before. Lupe’s tutor, Mike, reports that Lupe is an enthusiastic learner who’s made impressive progress not only in writing and spelling but also in pronunciation and reading comprehension – a claim supported by two consecutive years of significant gains on the annual CASAS test that the Literacy Council uses as a measure of student achievement.

Mike says, “Lupe is such a hard worker, and actually one of our biggest challenges is just finding the time for tutoring sessions, because he has so much to do, with work and family and everything else.” A testament to Lupe’s dedication, though, is the fact that while his company was doing a particularly large job creating loft apartments in historic buildings in downtown Hendersonville (see article here: ) Lupe would leave the job to come to his tutoring session in the early evening and then go back to work until midnight or later. It would have been so easy to skip his classes on those long days, but Lupe does not take the easy way out!

The Literacy Together staff sends a big and heartfelt thank you to Mike for all the time and effort he has devoted to Lupe over the past year and a half, along with congratulations to Lupe on his achievements so far and best wishes for continued self-improvement and business success in the years to come!

July 2015

July 2015

The Journey to citizenship studying with Literacy Together

Image courtesy of the Asheville Citizen-Times. Grandparents, Jose Luis Santi Silio and Margarita Maestri, help their 10-year-old grandson hang an American flag for their first July 4th celebration as American Citizens.

This year Literacy Together has had 16 students studying with us pass the US Citizenship exam and become citizens. The Asheville Citizen-Times published an article on a family of five who recently passed their U.S. Naturalization Exam. You can read the touching article about the family’s journey from Cuba to the U.S. here:. or a PDF version of the story.

June 2015

Daniel’s Augustine Project** Story

When he first started working with his Augustine Project tutor, Daniel didn’t say much. He was a very sweet second grader; that was clear from his careful actions and his gentle smile. His tutor and I assumed that as his familiarity with English grew, we would hear more from him. Daniel was raised in a very loving Spanish-speaking home.

At the beginning of the school year, Daniel scored at pre-kindergarten to first grade level across all six Augustine Project literacy pre-tests. He could not read words like: the, and, on, to. He was unable to write a sentence. He was unable to complete a reading comprehension assessment because he couldn’t read the lowest level passage.

And then, Daniel began working with his Augustine Project tutor, Jeannie.

Twice a week, Daniel met with his tutor. They worked on phonics, sight words, comprehension, spelling and more. Jeannie was not helping him with his homework or his school assignments but she was following the scope and sequence taught to her during her Augustine Project training. She was helping Daniel to fill in the gaps in his learning so that he could master fundamental literacy skills that were unknown to him. The two were partnered for one school year.

At the end of the school year, Daniel proved Jeannie and me right. As his familiarity with English grew, he did have a lot to say. I learned that he enjoyed science class and that he was working on an experiment to learn about sound. Daniel shared that tuning forks make different pitches of sound depending on their size and they tickle when they vibrate. Daniel loved his school and his teachers. His little sister was going to start coming to school here next year… Daniel spoke of much more and it was wonderful to hear.

The improvement in Daniel’s reading, writing and spelling skills were equally wonderful to see. In just one school year- 9 months- Daniel raised all of his scores dramatically. He now scored above grade level in all but one area. Where he started at kindergarten level, he finished at 3rd grade level. Where he started at 1st grade level, he finished at 4th grade level. Daniel’s transformation was truly remarkable.

Jeannie will continue to work with Daniel on his reading comprehension- the only area that was still below grade level- although significantly improved. She enjoyed her experience with Daniel so much that she will also begin working with his younger sister. What a lucky kindergartener! **The Augustine Project is now our Youth Literacy Program**

June 2015

At the beginning of the school year, Travis was the smallest student in his first grade class. Although his teacher thought that he seemed intelligent, he tested into the lowest reading group. While half of his peers read sentences, Travis struggled to read the letters b, d, g, q, p, n, h, r, u and v. He wrote letters backwards and confused capital letters with lowercase ones. He could write no words. Travis scored below grade level in six out of seven assessments that composed his Augustine Project** pre-test.

Luckily, Travis was matched with a very dedicated one-on-one tutor with the Augustine Project.

Twice a week, Travis met with his tutor, Carol. They worked on phonics, sight words, comprehension, spelling and more. Carol was not helping him with his homework or his school assignments but she was following the scope and sequence taught to her during her Augustine Project training. She was helping Travis to fill in the gaps in his learning so that he could master fundamental literacy skills that were unknown to him. They were partnered for one school year.

At the end of the school year, although Travis was still the smallest student in his first grade class, a lot had changed. His post-test indicated that he was performing at or above grade level in five of seven assessment areas. He even wrote two sentences. His tutor was by his side to help him spell three words: granny, nice and friend. **The Augustine Project is now our Youth Literacy Program**

May 2015

May 2015

24th Annual Adult Spelling Bee.

And the winner is . . . The Diadasias from Warren Wilson

Literacy Together held its 24th annual Spelling Bee Tuesday, April 28th at the Millroom in downtown Asheville. The event was successful in many ways. Attendance was great, spellers were competitive, and fundraising was high! David Ostergaard emceed the event, once again and had everyone in stitches. This year’s entertainment was Claire Dima, belly dancer extraordinaire. Claire entertained the audience during intermission with her intense movements and diverse skills using swords. Plough to Pantry and Chestnut competed for best fundraiser. Malaprops, Warren Wilson College, and Pack Memorial Library battled it out as the match was extended by four challenge rounds. After an incredible match of spelling geniuses, Warren Wilson College was crowned The Winner! Congratulations Diadasias of Warren Wilson! Thank you to all the Bee Teams competing and raising money for the Litearcy Council. Participating teams were: Warren Wilson College, Malaprops, Pack Memorial Library, Chestnut, Asheville Citizen Times, Battery Park Book Exchange, Rhubarb, Plough to Pantry, and JB Media.

April 2015

National Volunteer Week was April 12-18th.

According to Points of Light (, this observance encourages individuals and communities “to be at the center of social change – discovering and actively demonstrating their collective power to make a difference.”

This National Volunteer Week, we honored our volunteers who so often tell us that they get as much out of their experience as do the people they serve. Our tutors often humbly imply that they volunteer for “selfish” reasons:

  • “Volunteering is exciting. It’s the best two hours of my week.”
  • “I find it enjoyable, challenging, and rewarding. What more could a volunteer ask for?”
  • “I would be cutting myself off if I decided suddenly not to tutor anymore.”

We know that with every positive volunteer experience, a student’s life is utterly transformed. Because tutors give two hours of their time, attention, and energy each week, 350 students are given the opportunity to improve their lives each year. Adult students earn jobs and promotions, enjoy a novel for the first time, help their children in school, and earn GEDs and U.S. Citizenship. School-aged students catch up to their classmates’ reading, writing, and spelling levels and improve their educational confidence.

This National Volunteer Week, we thank our volunteers: your enjoyment of the volunteer experience only amplifies its impact and enables you to transform many lives, including your own.

March 2015

Student Success Story from Augustine Project**

Thank you to our wonderful Augustine Project tutor, Linda Laufer, who sent in the following inspiring story about her student. We will call this student Stan for the sake of his privacy.

“Stan is a bright, hard working 11-year-old who struggles severely with reading. Understandably, he approached reading as a chore, something he knew he had to do, but tried to avoid. During our first session in January, however, Stan surprised and delighted me: for our free reading segment he brought in a library book on foxes. His love of dogs motivated him to learn more, and he realized that by reading, he could learn more. Reading, although still a challenge, is now a gateway. I could not be happier.”

Because of the success Stan has experienced so far, his mother referred his younger sister to the Augustine Project. She is just as bright and hard- working as her brother and she is improving her reading skills as well.

Thank you to all of our Augustine Project tutors who make a difference in the chidlren’s lives with their volunteer work.

In the News:

Literacy Together was featured in an article on the WNC Nonprofit Pathways website. Read the article at WNC Nonprofit Pathways. **The Augustine Project is now our Youth Litearcy Program**

February 2015

Edith Passes US Naturalization Exam

When Edith first came to the US six years ago, she could hardly speak a word of English. Fast forward to December 2014, and she has just become the Literacy Council’s eighth student this year to pass the US Naturalization Exam and become a citizen – a feat that, sadly, many US-born native English speakers could not manage without some serious studying.

Edith had taken English classes in Mexico, where she attended three years of university, but never got good grades in it, she admits with a shy smile. She didn’t apply herself to mastering English then because she didn’t think she’d ever really need it. Once she was here, however, she realized the obvious need. Within two months of her arrival she was attending a Literacy Together class and working as hard on her English lessons as she did for long hours in the factory where she’d found a job. Literacy Together can’t take all the credit for teaching Edith English, though – she also got herself an English-speaking boyfriend, which certainly helped a lot! They used a lot of sign language at first, Edith says, but now it’s all English. They’re happily married now and have a two-year-old daughter. Edith wants to continue improving her English, especially her writing skills, in order to keep up with her daughter and be able to be as involved as possible in her education. “Literacy Together is a great place,” Edith says. “It’s helped me so much!” We give special thanks to Edith’s most recent tutor, Ellen Walker, who guided Edith’s studies of US history and government and gave her endless practice with the English vocabulary and conversation skills needed to get through the oral Naturalization interview.

January 2015

Learn what it is like to be a tutor or a student at Literacy Together in the article: Mountain Causes, Asheville Citizen-Times. Click here for a pdf version.

Over the holidays Literacy Together had three articles published in the local news.

The Laurel of Asheville article looks at New Year’s resolutions of our students and what you can do to help them achieve these goals. Article PDF

The WNC Woman article features one of our amazing ESOL tutors, Anne Dachowski, who is currently tutoring multipule students. Article PDF

The Biltmore Beacon article discusses student goals and how you can help students achieve their goals.

We are also mentioned in an Asheville Citizen-Times article about authors who visited WNC in 2014. Article PDF

December 2014

Last November, I answered a phone call from a prospective Adult Literacy student. After hearing about our program, he was excited to proceed. I suggested that he come in for an intake meeting with me. I asked his name and typed it into my online calendar. I wrote “R.J. Davids- Intake” in the 1:00 time slot on November 22nd. Smiling, I continued my work day. I am always happy when a new student reaches out for reading help.

When 1:00 rolled around on November 22nd, as expected, the student arrived at my office. Respectfully, he said, “Hi. I’m J.R. and I’m here for a meeting with you.” I welcomed him and joked that I must have been in a hurry when I wrote his name on the calendar last week because I thought his name was R.J. “It is,” the man responded. Confused, I asked, “Is your name R.J. or J.R?” The kind man smiled and reassuringly said, “Yes. That’s me. You got the right guy.” I realized that he didn’t have the pre-literacy skills needed to understand my question. I invited him to sit down and we began the intake. Assessments completed at that meeting indicated that he was reading below the first grade level.

I contacted a particular tutor and said, “I have a student I think you would love to work with. His name is either R.J or J.R. …I’m not sure which. I don’t think he knows either.” Intrigued, the tutor decided to work with him. The match was official. Tutoring began.

Months later, I knew that sessions were going well. I had spoken with the tutor and I had seen the student and his family at Literacy Together functions. The pair had been working diligently on names of letters and sounds that letters make. They worked on the order of letters in words and they rearranged sounds to make words. The student became certain that his name was R.J. and told this to his tutor. Once they reached the more difficult letter combinations, the mystery of his full name was solved. While studying the digraph “ck” the student sounded out the word R-i-ck and said, “Hey now! People call me Rick. That’s my name!”

Together, the pair continue to meet R.J.’s goals. After lots of practice, he was able to read a book to his grandchild for the first time.

November 2014

When I first met Richard in November of 2013, he was homeless and jobless. He did own a car and when he could not find temporary housing, this is where he slept. At times, Richard would need to pawn possessions, like his guitar, to earn gas money so that he could drive himself to meet his tutor. Richard read below the first grade level.

Richard worked diligently with his tutor, Bill Saunders. Not only did they focus on beginning literacy skills but also on job-related “soft skills” and interview vocabulary. His tutor states that Richard has improved his oral and his written communication. Along with that, his self-confidence has skyrocketed. Richard is in the running for a better position.

After one year of tutoring, Richard has improved his CASAS score by more than two grade levels. More importantly, he is employed and he has permanent housing.

October 2014

October 2014

Congratulations to Gina Poore, one of our very dedicated Adult Together students. Gina has been a Literacy Together student since 2007 and she has recently completed all twelve books in the Wilson series. This is a rare accomplishment indeed!

A few years ago, Gina’s CASAS test score showed that she was reading at the third grade level. This time around, her score reflects the hard work that Gina and her tutor, Day Ann Emory, have put in week after week. Gina is reading at the eleventh grade level. What amazing growth!

There is always more to learn and Gina and Day Ann are not done. They have decided to concentrate on advanced spelling and writing skills. These high level skills will make Gina a better candidate in a competitive job market. Once her children leave home, Gina may dive in to full-time work and she hopes to be prepared.

In the meantime, Gina will continue to read novels- something that she could not do before meeting Day Ann. Not long ago, she finished a mystery novel and now she has picked up a book by bestselling author, Nora Roberts. We hope she enjoys the read!

September 2014

September 2014

Tutor Travels with her Student to Visit Student’s Family and Home Country

Victoria Rose, a tutor with Literacy Together, traveled to Mexico over the summer with her student Carmen. Here is what Victoria has to say about her experince.

“I’ve learned about Carmen as a neighbor and a tutor. I know she is from Mexico, and in one of our lessons I learned about her brothers and sisters. This summer, I traveled with her and her family to the town she grew up in. Matatlan, an hour east of Guadalajara, is a small town yet active and full of surprises. One minute a large pick-up truck would drive by, the next a horse and rider would travel through the town.

When people asked what I want to experience on my trip to Mexico, I responded: experience life with a Mexican family; and learn about the food. Both were delightful! Carmen, her four children and I stayed with her brother, his wife and their three children. For me, the highlight was visiting Carmen’s parents. Carmen’s father built a home outside of town, at the top of the mountain. The views were stunning. Food – avocados, papaya, guava, lime, oranges, cactus all were ripe and ready to eat. My favorite feast was homemade tortillas with pumpkin flowers. The kitchen was filled with laughter and food kept showing up on the table.

I tried to learn Spanish as much as possible. By the 3rd day both English and Spanish mixed up in my head and I could hardly say or comprehend much of anything. I may still be trying to learn Spanish, but I will always remember how wonderful I was treated in Mexico by Carmen and her family.”

July 2014

Elena Zinchenko – Star ESOL Student

Elena Zinchenko is our star ESOL student this year! A 35-year-old woman from southern Russia, she came to us in 2008 as a Low Beginner. In six years she has attended 450 hours of instruction through Literacy Together – with individual tutors and in small groups- while also attending ESL classes at AB Tech. She even quit a full-time job, sacrificing some financial security, in order to work part-time and have more time for learning English. She knew that in the long term, mastery of English would lead to a more rewarding career with even more financial security. Elena is now in the Advanced level of English and is preparing to take the US Naturalization Exam. Once that goal has been achieved she plans to enroll in a career training program at AB Tech. We have no doubt she’ll succeed! As is Elena, the LCBC staff is extremely grateful to Elena’s current tutor, Jerry Sampson, who has been working with her for over a year, and the many tutors who’ve helped Elena over the past several years.

July 2014

July 2014

Literacy – A Family Affair

Jesus, Alma’s eldest son, arrived second. A gentle soul, he quietly completed intake testing with his tutor, Mary Miller. Just the mention of his name brings a smile to her face. She says, “Jesus enjoys all the aspects of the Youth Literacy lessons. He loves the phonics games and is quick to laugh. He is a curious learner.” Although he is only in the fourth grade, Mary thinks of him as an old soul, wise beyond his years.

Next came Lupe, Alma’s husband and Jesus’s father. He entered the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program at Literacy Together. A hard worker, Lupe could speak English fluently and read English at about the ninth grade level, but struggled with spelling and writing.

The last member of the family, three-year-old Leonardo, is the only one who is not a Literacy Together student; he is just a bit too young. Read more here.

June 2014

June 2014
Meet Jesus Hernandez, Youth Literacy student, pictured in the photo to the left with his little brother Leo, and in the photo to the right with his tutor Mary Miller. Jesus has made leaps and bounds since becoming a Youth Literacy student in August, and has even started reading his tutor’s copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone at home in his free time. You can learn about how to become a Youth Literacy tutor at an upcoming orientation. Contact Tonya at or call(828)254-3442 to learn more.

June 2014

June 2014

Literacy Together Tutor Visits Student’s Family in Mexico

The bond between a tutor and student can grow very strong – and sometimes stretch for thousands of miles. ESOL tutor Steve Hopkins recently traveled to Mexico with his wife, and spent a day with the family of his Literacy Together student, Dulce Rivera. Steve and Dulce have been working together for over four years to improve Dulce’s English and to enable her to support her children’s education. Steve has become very close with Dulce and the children, and has often helped them with their homework in addition to tutoring Dulce.

Here’s what Steve said about his trip to Guanajuanto, Mexico to see Dulce’s family:

“Most significantly for me, and I’m sure for Dulce and her family as well, was a touching and personal human bonding over several thousand miles. Joy and happiness easily trumped the language difference when we first met. Her family took a 1-hour bus ride from Leon to Guanajuato, and we drove an hour from San Miguel de Allende with our guide, Jesus. Dulce had told me her mother probably wouldn’t come as it would mean having to close their small market for a day. So, an indication of how special the day was for the family, is that not only did she come, but both sisters and two nephews came as well. I had no idea, and I am not sure Dulce did either, that this was going to happen. We spent six hours together walking and seeing the sights of historic/picturesque Guanajuato, and enjoyed a long leisurely lunch at a tree-shaded outdoor cafe. Dulce had sent with me individual cards for everyone with handwritten personal notes in each, and enclosed her kids’ recent school photos. Tears mixed with laughter all around. Jesus, our guide, did a masterful job of interpreting the exchange of multiple thoughts, questions, and emotions. Dulce has been in the U.S. for 13+ years, and has not seen her family in that time. And, it is unlikely, for reasons on both ends, that either will travel to the other’s country. So, another reason our getting together was very special. It is so amazing to me that that the simple bond of language shrunk all those miles down to a very personal, memorable experience for each of us.”

April 2014

Front Page Profile of Literacy Together in the Asheville Citizen-Times

The Asheville Citizen-Times published a front page profile of our Adult Literacy program. Written by reporter Barbara Blake, the piece discusses the scope of the issue of low-literacy, and reports on some of our most inspiring student stories. Click here to read the article.

April 2014

April 2014

Literacy Together in WNC Woman

In the latest in our series of articles in WNC Woman, we profile Kimberly Thomas, one of our students who received her GED in January. Kimberly is also enrolled at AB Tech. Read more of her inspiring story here.

January 2014

100th ESOL Student Becomes a United States Citizen

Two ESOL students passed their U.S. Naturalization exam in January — the 100th and 101st students to become citizens after studying for their test through the Literacy Council. 100% of the students who have studied for this exam with us have become citizens. Marta and Camila are sisters who immigrated to the United States from Mexico. Marta is married with children and Camila is a single mother. The sisters have been receiving English instruction together from a Literacy Council tutor each week for a year and a half with the goals of earning better jobs, helping their children in school, and becoming United States citizens. Marta passed the U.S. Naturalization Exam in December and Camila passed the test in January. This arduous exam requires command of the English language as well as U.S. history and civics.

December 2013

Literacy Together Goes to Jail

Did you know that 75% of state prison inmates did not complete high school or can be classified as low literate? Our volunteers hope to improve that statistic. Adult Literacy tutors now have the option to tutor inmates at Craggy prison. Currently, Craggy has an impressive library and a GED program for inmates. However, there are some men there who are unable to take advantage of these opportunities because of their literacy struggles. Literacy Together’s Adult Literacy Director, working closely with staff at Craggy prison, has been conducting intake meetings with carefully selected inmates and has begun to match them with tutors. Craggy staff has offered the use of their classroom space, whiteboards, and other materials that might be useful during the tutoring process. If you would like more information about this opportunity, please contact Rebecca at 828-254-3442 or

December 2013

Part 4 of Series in WNC Woman Magazine Profiling Literacy Together Students

In the next installment of WNC Woman Magazine’s series profiling our students, Adult Literacy & Augustine Project (now Youth Literacy) Director Lily Contorer relates the story of one of our many students who hides her reading struggles from others, even from those closest to her. While “Sara” didn’t want to reveal her face or real name to the public, she is very open about the ways that her reading struggles have affected her. Click here to read this poignant article.

November 2013

Ashley’s “Letter to the Editor”

Last Wednesday, Executive Director of Literacy Together, Ashley Lasher, published a heartfelt thank you to our many amazing volunteers in the “Letters to the Editor” section of the Asheville Citizen-Times last week. Click here to read her letter.

November 2013

Part 1 of Series in WNC Woman Magazine Profiling Literacy Together Students

Here is a link to Part 1 of this series, featuring student Timica Brooks.

Part 2 of Series in WNC Woman Magazine Profiling Literacy Together Students

The October edition of WNC Woman is out, featuring Part 2 in a series that highlights Literacy Council students. Here is the link to our story about Elaine Young.

Part 3 of Series in WNC Woman Magazine Profiling Literacy Together Students

Part Three in our series in WNC Woman Magazine highlights Claudia Camacho, who came to the United States with her husband in exile from their home country of Colombia when political opponents threatened their lives. Read her story here.

September 2013

2013 Sector Stewardship Award

Literacy Together (formerly Literacy Council of Buncombe County) was a 2013 Sector Stewardship award winner at the N.C. Center for Nonprofits conference. Click here to read the NC Center for Nonprofits press release featured in Mountain Xpress.

September 2013

Main FM Show: “Not Until Heaven: Adult Literacy in Asheville”

The Literacy Council of Buncombe County was profiled on MAIN FM 103.7 on Tues. Sept. 17th 7:00pm. Thank you to our tutors, Jessica Rehfield, Mary Sugeir, and Jennifer Hart Love for their brilliant interviews and our students Elaine Young (also featured in the WNC Woman article) and Ricardo Sales for sharing their heartwarming stories. The 30 minute radio show was titled, “Not Until Heaven: Adult Literacy in Asheville” in response to a very powerful story shared by Elaine Young during her interview. As a child, Elaine was told by her fellow church members that, because of her educational difficulties, she would never be as good as anyone else until she got to heaven. It was a statement that both hurt and motivated Elaine to persevere through all of life’s challenges and eventually to seek assistance with reading, writing and spelling from the Literacy Council. Click here to listen to the show.

July 2013

Publisher’s Weekly article: “The Fight for Literacy in the South”

Our Executive Director, Ashley Lasher, was quoted in this Publisher’s Weekly article, entitled “The Fight for Literacy in the South.”

June 2013

Asheville Citizen Times Augustine Project Coverage

The Asheville Citizen Times published a June 5, 2013 article about the power of the Literacy Council’s Augustine Project, serving low-income children reading below grade level in Buncombe County. Click here to read the article.

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