Category Archives: volunteering

Passion for Literacy


I thought it might be kind of interesting? fun? different? this month to share a few things I’m passionate about, since it is the “Month of Love” and all.

hello february

Today, you get a dose of something I have recently become passionate about- literacy.

I never realized how important literacy was within my community or how passionate I am about literacy until last year. (As if my degree in Linguistics & Spanish didn’t give it away…)

I moved back home from school in December 2011 and started seeking ways to get involved in the ESOL community. My project for Senior Seminar was a whole proposal as to how I would start up an ESOL program in Durham.  I figured volunteering would be the perfect way to practice my Spanish while building relationships and helping people…and getting my foot in the door of the ESOL community. When I found the perfect volunteer opportunity the following month, I made a super last-minute decision (remember how I crave quick changes?) to switch from teaching ESOL to teaching Adult Literacy- basic literacy skills to adults who had never learned to read or write. I was trained, matched with a student, and started teaching him phonics all within a two-week period.

Those two weeks were eye-opening as I met a man in his 50’s who had never learned to read or write. Only his ex-wife knew about his illiteracy, and he was determined to keep it a secret from everyone else he knew. This man had gone through the public education system in Barbados, moved to the States, had multiple handyman jobs, all while not know how to read something as simple as a street sign. It was mind-blowing that someone could go that long without being able to write a birthday card, fill out an application, or order from a menu that didn’t have pictures.

The beginning was a struggle for him- learning the sounds of letters and putting them together to create a word was almost like learning a foreign language. We worked with letter tiles, flash cards, sound cards, reading lists, and despite all the repetition of words like “sad” “rat” “mat” “mad” “sat” he would still struggle.

One day, after a few weeks, everything clicked for him. He began tapping out words and hearing them right away, reading words off a list correctly, and writing sentences just as I dictated them.I

Sure, each new sound had its issues. After he was comfortable with “i” I brought “e” into the mix, and we were stuck reviewing and reinstating the differences between the two sounds although they sometimes come in the same environments. (like “rid” & “red”) A few weeks ago when I introduced the “th” digraph, I’m pretty sure he hated me. Because of his thick accent, he just couldn’t hear the “th” in words like “with” “thin” “thick” “math” “Beth.” We’re still reviewing the sound, and he’s getting better with more practice, and of course I know he’ll master it soon!

I teach my student using the Wilson Reading System. It’s a very structured system and lesson plan, that allows around an hour for instruction time, and thirty minutes at the end for controlled reading, worksheets, etc. I’ve always had a hard time coming up with something to work on for the last bit of the lesson- my student mainly just wants to sit and talk. While planning a lesson back in September, I picked up a phonetically controlled book, Dad and Sam, on a whim. I thought I could let my student give it a try. Long story short, (but you can read the story here) he read the book. By himself. We both cried.

There’s something so powerful about literacy, and sharing that gift is priceless. 

I’m so thankful for literacy, and that I have a passion for it. I’m also lucky that the position I currently have is one that allows me to spread the word about the importance of literacy and help people who need it. It opens so many doors for people- academically, emotionally, professionally- and it’s priceless! Not a day goes by that I don’t use my literacy skills in some way or another, and I can’t imagine someone not being able to do the things I can do because of a lack of literacy. A week ago it was National Literacy Action Week, and it was exciting spreading the word about literacy!!

What are some things you are passionate about? Are you passionate about literacy?

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National Literacy Action Week


Did you know that January 28 – February 3, 2013 is National Literacy Action Week?

If you’re like I was a month ago, you probably have no idea what that means. Allow me to enlighten you!

National Literacy Action Week (NLAW, not to be confused with Next-Generation Light Anti-tank Weapon which is a real thing. Google it.) is a week in which individuals/organizations raise awareness for literacy in their communities and its link to various social justice issues. You’ll see some shocking statistics below that show the binds between the importance of literacy in regards to social justice. You can find more information about NLAW here.

The organization where I serve is participating in NLAW by chalking: going to local places and writing statistics about literacy, quotes about literacy, and promoting our organization by writing our website. I was hesitant at first about chalking and its impact, but it’s actually been really fun and a great opportunity to spread the word about literacy! If you follow me on twitter, I’m sure you’ve seen the barrage of tweets about literacy, #NLAW, and photos from our chalking adventures. I’ve enjoyed spreading the word and enlightening people in Durham about literacy!

Monday we went to a local bookstore and chalked on their front sidewalks. It was our test-run, so to speak, and although we were prepared, we weren’t very organized at first. However, it turned out well and we talked to a few passersby about how our organization is trying to help Durham!


With one of my fellow AmeriCorps members after chalking!


60% of America’s prison inmates are illiterate. Can you believe that?!


Quote by Frederick Douglass


Had to include this since it’s why we were chalking!

Wednesday morning we planned on chalking at a local Center but the weather had other plans. After a random drizzle over Durham, we set back out to chalk up some stats and quotes and promote literacy! We were on a long sidewalk next to a fairly busy intersection and we got lots of stares, honks, waves, runners running by, and “I don’t believe that”‘s. Apparently, they don’t know the alarming statistic that 20% of Durham residents are functionally illiterate. 




I know quite a few of adults that make up that 14%.


love this quote!


this one breaks my heart. I can’t imagine!


mandatory foot + hashtag photo


wohoo! #NLAW


Literacy –> Self-Advocacy –> A better life!


We had a lot of sidewalk space to fill in so I suggested this silly “HOP into literacy” hopscotch idea.

Other stats :

– 21% of US adults read below a 5th grade level. (National Institute of Literacy)

– 32 million US adults can’t read. (National Institute of Literacy)

– 19% of high school graduates can’t read. (National Institute of Literacy)

– 774 million people worldwide can’t read. (National Institute of Literacy)

– 85% of juveniles who enter the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate. (

– Low literary costs $73 million per year in terms of direct health care costs. (


You may not be a resident of my community, but I’m sure wherever you do reside there are literacy issues that cause other issues. What are you doing to spread the word about the importance of literacy?


Although National Literacy Action week is almost over, it doesn’t have to be! We can advocate for literacy year-round and help people in our community learn the invaluable skill set of reading & writing. Feel free to participate in the NLAW activities/conversations/tweets using the #NLAW hashtag!



Hey Guess What


It’s “Hey Guess What” time, also known as “I’m too busy to write a blog post about my California adventures and upload all of those photos, so instead I’m going to tell you about my crazy life lately.”

Betcha didn’t know what you were getting into when you decided to read this post, right? 😉

Without further adieu, hey guess what-


– this North Carolina girl has been California-sick since returning home. I miss the warmer weather, the people I met, the languages, culture, and the city-life. Never thought I would say I missed the city!

– I’m over halfway through with Anna Karenina! I’ve been reading it off and on since August, but lately I’ve been reading a few chapters every night on my Nook. Surprisingly, I’m really enjoying it!

– I’m currently tutoring a GED Writing student. Actually, I’m currently blogging while he writes an essay, but technically I’m still tutoring.

– I started watching Downton Abbey last night! The first episode was alright… I’m curious to see what happens next though and figure out what all of the hype is about! 😉

– Cream soda is probably one of my favorite simple splurges at Foster’s Market. I usually stick with water at restaurants, but Boylan‘s Cream Soda gets me every time!  (Foster’s has an amazing pastries/candy selection so sometimes I’m tempted by those things as well!)

– This week (and last for that matter) have been super hectic at work. We’ve been intaking/testing new students, having new tutor orientations, and gearing up for tutor training next week which is a whole other ordeal! I’m working nearly 11 hours each day, and will be so glad when things slow back down!

– There’s a Dirty Girl 5K coming to the area, and I’m hoping to sign up! Any local chicas want to be on my team?

– I got up early and worked out yesterday. Despite the fact that I thought I was going to pass out (too much tabata on an empty stomach. Oops?), I had so much energy throughout the day and slept so well last night!

– Tuesday was a great day overall. I woke up early and got a great start to my day by working out, cooked breakfast & lunch, made it to work early, tested some new students, got a latte with a friend, tutored my student, started a new online Bible study, and was in bed by 11. Wohoo!

– My GED student just got confused on how to determine when to use “it’s” and “its” and I had to Google it. And I’m a Linguistics major. Fail.

– Don’t ya hate how life can get so busy and you can’t seem to make time for friends? I do. That’s why I’m glad some friends from college were in my neck of the woods Friday night- I met them for dinner and we talked for hours!

– My cousin and I have been going to church together for a few weeks on Saturday evenings. I prefer going on Saturdays, and it’s been nice hanging out with him outside of family get togethers. We spent 30 minutes in the parking lot talking about life! (And for the record, that’s a record- the most he’s talked to me in years!)

– I have been having the craziest dreams lately- one night it was about someone I’ve talked to but haven’t met in person, and last night I had a dream I was pregnant. It was sooo crazy… it felt so real! I don’t know where these dreams have been coming from but I wish they didn’t seem so real!

– I’ve been emailing a friend from Australia who I met in LA and it’s fun finding out about life “Down Under!” I’m definitely going to be vacationing there in the future.

– AWOLNATION is going to be in Raleigh in March. Anyone want to go to the concert with me?!

– Speaking of vacations, I’m already looking forward to spring break this year. Hopefully I can take a little trip! 🙂

– The past four nights I have debated whether I should read, blog, or watch Netflix before bed. Clearly, blogging has taken the backseat :/

– Apparently snow is in the forecast for my area tomorrow night? That’s just according to twitter and word of

mouth, so I’m not sure how reliable that is!

– Sauteed garlic, kale & chickpeas are a new favorite combo for me. So quick, easy & tasty!

– Um, a GED student showed up for class at 7:56 and class ends at 8:00. Crazy.

– I’m counting down the minutes until I can leave work and go home. My bed (and vanilla soy milk) is calling my name. And of course there’s still the inner debate between watching Netflix or reading Anna Karenina… what would you choose?


I promise a San Francisco blog post in the next few days! 🙂


Top 12 in 2012


There is no way I could possibly end this year without a round-up or list of some kind. It’s no surprise that I love lists. With my forgetful nature it’s imperative that I have some sort of ongoing list on the back of an envelope with my enclosed bank statement (true story) whether it be a grocery list, my infamous mile-long to-do lists, or a list of blogging ideas. I am a list maker.

So without further adieu, I give you my top 12 from 2012: a random concoction of top memories, moments, images that stick out in my mind as being associated with this year.

12. Living in Durham

To the outsider, Durham may seem “ghetto” or “sketchy” or whatever other adjectives you might attribute to my city. But, to the insider and a Durham native her whole life, it’s a pretty great place to live. This year living back in Durham after college has been adventurous & interesting, to say the least. I’ve learned a lot about my hometown and explored new places, even started a new job in Durham. I wouldn’t trade this city for anything. 2012 has been fun, Durham, let’s see what 2013 has in store!

11. Turner Classic Movies

It sounds silly, but this year has been a great year because I’ve been able to watch TCM! I didn’t get the channel in college, and I had missed out on so many good old movies. This year, I’ve definitely upped my old movie watching and even started tweeting during some films, using the hashtag #TCMParty. It’s been so fun talking with other classic film lovers and learning all sorts of new facts about actors, directors, & films!

10. The Durham Bulls

I would be terribly remiss to post about my year and not include the Durham Bulls in some way or another. So many of my spring & summer memories involve a baseball game, or being around the ballpark. I’ve lost track of how many “girl’s nights” were had at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park with dinner before at Tobacco Road, Tyler’s, or Mellow Mushroom… how many bags of peanuts I purchased and devoured… how many tweets I tweeted to @DurhamBulls… how many parking passes I had in my car from parking before games. 2012 will be remembered as the year I learned to love the Durham Bulls all over again.


9. Summit Church

After years of hearing great things about this body of believers, I finally visited one Sunday back in April. That church is huge, and despite my introvertedness, I have enjoyed going back and blending in amidst everyone. Each time I go, I learn so much. I can’t really describe it or put into words how thankful I am for a church like that and strong leader JD Greear. His messages challenge me, make me want to be a better follower of Christ, and make me long to serve overseas. All in all, The Summit has made a huge impact on my life in 2012.

8. Volunteering as a literacy tutor

This has definitely been one of the highlights of my year, possibly even my life. Giving someone the gift of literacy, who has gone their whole life without being able to read something as simple as a menu, is so rewarding and fun! Sure, it’s been challenging on both ends, but I think my student would agree that this year has been a huge blessing and learning experience! After all, he did read his first book ever just a few months ago!

I highly urge you to volunteer somewhere and make a difference in someone’s life! If you’re in the Durham area, let me know- I have a great place for you to volunteer! 😉  (shameless plug)

7. Live Music

As I’ve said before, there’s nothing more magical to me than live music. Ok, Disney ranks up there with magical, but I simply love live music. This year I got to see a few artists/groups in concert, and it was great! Jessie Baylin, The Fray, Lucius, and Milo Greene. Plus, every Sunday at church is like a mini-concert with the awesome worship music! 🙂




Isaac on the keys



6. The NC Cow Parade

No, I’m not crazy. If you live in the Triangle area, you should have heard of the Cow Parade by now. If not, read about it here. I got to “meet” a few of these incredibly creative cows in and around the Durham area while they were in town. I think it’s so cool that something so big can be associated with my city this year!


the Burt’s Bees cow!

5. Maximus Decimus Meridius AKA the puppy we call Max.

Gifted to Mom for Mother’s Day, this little fella has brought so much love, so many smiles, and lots of memories to our family. I love coming downstairs in the mornings to his sleepy self, and coming home in the evenings to a hyperactive puppy… it’s hilarious how excited he gets to see his family!


November 2012


July 2012

4. Cancer

This year, I was reminded just how much I want to kick cancer in the rear. I lost two dear souls to that horrible disease, and it breaks my heart thinking of how many other lives were lost to cancer this year. I know both of my loved ones are now with their Savior, but I wonder how many others are assured that their loved one with Him?

In honor and memory of my loved ones who lost their lives to cancer, I donate platelets as often as I can. It’s something so simple and easy, yet it can save someone’s life!

3. Disney World

I think everyone can agree that Disney is just so magical that it makes them feel like a kid. Disney truly was magical this past March as my crazy family paraded the streets of the theme parks, rode rides, and took too many pictures.


2. My California Trip!

Clearly I have been way too eager and excited to visit the West Coast for the past few months, but this was the year that dream became a reality! I have SO many pictures and stories to share about the trip, and if you can’t wait for my dozens of recap posts, feel free to follow me on twitter and read my tweets from the trip!


1. Blogging!

Typical answer for a blogger, yes, but I have loved keeping track of my life with this blog, and finding other bloggers in my area! It’s been fun “meeting” other bloggers and I enjoy reading blogs as much as I enjoy blogging. Let’s see what the next year holds in store for me & this blog! 🙂

A Day in the Life of a Nonprofit Worker


Most days I whine about everything at work being mundane, when really, that’s far from the truth. Some days are more exciting than others, but really, none of my job is mundane. Sure, the calling potential students and explaining in detail everything we offer… that gets old, but everything else that goes on is quite interesting.

Here’s an inside glance at what went on a few Thursdays ago at the center.

9:00ish AM- person on shift comes to unlock building, start coffee, turn on lights, etc. If I’m on shift I’m here by 8:40, otherwise it’s more like 9:15.

9:25 – students and tutors slowly start filtering in. I open my work and personal emails and check my calendar. Not too much on the agenda yet, but I’m sure stuff will come up.

9:50 – ESOL students make their way in from the cold, all bundled up and smiling. “Good morning teacher!” they chime as they walk past me, despite the fact that I’m not their teacher. Those three words make me smile. I reply, “good morning!” and walk back into my office. Read the rest of this entry

Hey Guess What


Hey guess what?!

((AKA random tidbits about my life currently. AKA most boring post ever.))

– I went to Target yesterday to buy floss. The one time I don’t have it in my purse or at work, is when I need it. Go figure.

– While at Target, I splurged on coffee. AKA I spent about $4 on it. Dang it, Starbucks and your pumpkin flavored drinks.

– My mom finally got a new car since hers was totaled nearly a month ago. Oh, and Padre is still undergoing different tests to find out what happened/if anything is wrong.

– Did you know I’m training for the Color Me Rad 5K that’s a month from today?! Well yeah, I am. And not doing a very good job of training seriously. I’ve been trying to run every other day, but once I get to the point where my breathing is staggered and rough, I stop and take a walking break. Clearly, I don’t want to walk during the race. Any tips on how to train? ((PS. If you want to sign up, do so soon before prices go up!)) Read the rest of this entry

Dad and Sam


Do you remember the first book you ever read? What was it about? How old were you?

Honestly, I don’t remember what book I read or what it was about, but I probably was young… maybe 4 or 5. I don’t even remember learning how to read, it’s just something that came naturally and easily for me.

Last Thursday night, my 53-year old adult literacy student read a book (Dad and Sam) for the first time. That was the first book he had ever read.

53 years of not being able to read a simple children’s book… can you imagine?

I’ve been teaching him since January… months and months of simple phonics, repetitive lessons with words like sadmap, rat, tag, lid, job, hot, pit, nag, rot… months of practicing and homework and flash cards and writing sentences. Months of hard work all paid off on Thursday night.

For some random reason, I picked up a Hooked on Phonics book for my student to try to read in class. And I kind of laughed to myself after seeing how childish and easy it was. Oh if only I knew how much gravity that book would have.

“So we’re done with the lesson but I picked out a book for you. It’s a little kid book so it might be silly but I want you to try to read it.”

“I will try.”

I hand him the book. He looks at the cover, squints, and says, “Dad and… Sam?”

“Yes, great job! Now open it up.”

“What’s this?” he asks pointing to the first page, confused about where to start reading.

“This is called a cover page. See, there’s the title, and the author and illustrator- the person who drew the pictures. What’s the title again?”

“Dad and Sam.”

“Good. Now flip the page.”

“Dad h-a-d… Dad had a …hat.”

“Yes! Keep going.”

Pages were turned. Simple sentences were read. And when he finished the last sentence and closed the book, he hunkered his shoulders, lowered his head into his hands, and started sobbing.

“I’m sorry,” he blurted out through the tears.

I was in shock for a few moments… “It’s ok, don’t apologize. You just did something amazing, A. You read a book! You did so great.” I patted his shoulder, in hopes to comfort and encourage him.

His sobbing continued so I grabbed a box of tissues. He took one… two… three… trying to compose himself and wipe the tears from his face. “I’m sorry,” he said again.

I let him take his time. I didn’t want to ask questions or press him to read it again but when he picked up the book I quietly asked, “do you want to read it again?”

“Yes. Dad and Sam…”

The second time after finishing, he put the book down, took a deep breath, and covered his mouth as if he wanted to stop the inevitable words from coming out.

“You know… it’s been hard. I’ve lived a hard life. Nobody except my ex-wife knew about my… my disability. I haven’t let it hold me back though… I’ve had lots of good jobs and I know lots of skills, but I can’t read. If you ever have kids stick with them and teach them to read. I didn’t have that and I couldn’t do that for my son and it’s been so hard…”

I let him talk, vent, confide some of his hardships and past experiences to me. He went on for nearly twenty minutes, bringing me to tears a few times because of the pain with which he said the words “my disability.”

“You should be really proud of yourself, you know. I’m proud of you.”

“Thank you. And I thank you for all you do. I couldn’t have done this without you. I thank you for your time.”

That’s when I started crying again. Hearing how thankful he was for my help, especially after he had told me how hard his life had been because of his disability.

After we had both composed ourselves and said our goodbyes until the next class, I sat in the room still in shock about what had happened… about how lightly I had taken the whole ‘reading a book’ thing, and about how harsh the word disability sounded coming from his mouth.

Illiteracy is a form of a disability, but I hate hearing someone say that. Illiteracy holds you back in so many ways… more ways than I can even imagine. My student (and others at the center where I serve & volunteer) can’t look at a menu in a restaurant, can’t read street signs, can’t read his own mail. I can’t imagine living in a world without literacy. Without the ability to read. And that’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about volunteering and helping A learn to read and write. I’m passionate about giving him the gift of literacy… about turning his so-called disability into an ability.

My student read a book for the first time at 53-years old. And that’s just the beginning. He will read many, many more books during our time working together, and far into the future. Soon, A’s disability will become his ability. I can’t wait to see just how much this will help his life and change him as a person. I can’t wait to see the excitement on his face when he finishes his second book. I can’t wait to hear him read more books.

You’re never too old to learn to read your first book.