“Everything is like new” | How NLD Innovation Grant winner changed one student’s life

The Kalamazoo Literacy Council was recently selected to receive a National Literacy Directory Innovation Grant Award for how it was able to recruit and utilize community members and resources to help meet the rising need for its literacy tutoring and education materials. One student KLC was able to reach through its efforts was Rob Smith. Read his story below.

Rob Smith at GED ClassRob can distinctly remember speaking to teachers as a child about his difficulty reading, but still being pushed forward. He showed up, passed, and got good at bluffing. Rob went on to have many jobs, at one point finally becoming, in his own words, “a well-paid trash man.” Although he was making a decent wage, he still held a secret inside of him. He had allies (his wife and a few coworkers) to help with certain tasks, such as reading a map, blueprints, or a paystub. He developed a meticulous memory and could recall with stunning accuracy shapes, sequences of numbers, and specific details shared in conversation. However, despite this great talent, he lived with the worry and sense of low worth that struggling to read brings. After an accident left him unable to work, Rob set out on a new mission: to learn to read.

KLCIn March 2014, he began attending reading and writing classes that take place twice a week at The Reading Center at Goodwill, one of fourteen Community Literacy Centers the Kalamazoo Literacy Council (KLC) operates with community partners across Kalamazoo County. There, he was taught by a team of knowledgeable and understanding volunteer tutors and instructors to read and write in a practical and applicable fashion. Through the KLC’s one-on-one tutoring, small group instruction, and computer-based instruction, Rob quickly advanced through the academic ranks. After more than a year of effort, he went from a 5th grade reading level to a 10th grade reading level. No longer did he find himself looking at text and immediately dismissing it as unreadable. Rob finally lives in a world where he can decode, understand, and utilize the enormous amount of information that so many people take for granted.

Today, Rob is president of the KLC’s Student Advisory Council and serves on the KLC Board of Directors.

“Everything is like new,” he said.

Rob Smith with KLC Volunteer Meloney ByrdIt’s been years since he “confessed” that he could not read. The time spent anticipating questions and being afraid to participate in conversations is fading. Rob is happy and now feels comfortable in public places. He recently enrolled in the Adult Basic Education program at Goodwill Industries of Southwestern Michigan where he is studying to take the GED. He continues to study at The Reading Center at Goodwill with the help of tutors and instructors from the KLC and is amazed at the progress he has made. Now, after achieving goals he never would have conceived of a few short years ago, Rob speaks of the KLC with notes of pride and satisfaction in his voice.

He is truly a shining example of the positive change that can be brought about when a person overcomes a seemingly impossible obstacle.

Story written by Meloney Byrd with contributions by Alexander Finkelstein. Both are volunteer Literacy Advocates of the Kalamazoo Literacy Council.

To find out more about National Literacy Directory’s bi-monthly grant opportunities, subscribe to NCFL’s monthly e-newsletter. Literacy and education programs listed in the Directory are eligible. To join the Directory, submit your programmatic listing here.