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Student Success Spotlights - 2015

Use the links below to see specific people, or browse at your leisure!


evelyn & rafael


It wasn’t until Evelyn met her now-husband, Rafael, that she was able to find free English classes. Since Evelyn moved to Houston with her children, she had been looking for a place where she could learn and improve her English skills. Rafael was already taking classes at Literacy Advance and he helped her to call and schedule an appointment for registration.
Evelyn had a really busy work schedule working as a housekeeper but she was determined to improve her English skills, so she could better her life and help her family. Between her and Rafael they have five children, and she wanted to be able to speak with her children’s teachers. After a long day at work, she wanted to sit down with her kids and help them with homework.

Evelyn also needed to be able to speak with her boss, and go shopping evelyn & kidswithout her children’s help. She needed to understand the bus route and not get lost going to places because she couldn’t understand directions or street signs.

Having to use a computer also made Evelyn feel powerless. She didn’t know how to use one and was worried she wouldn’t be able to keep up with her children’s schooling and homework.

Evelyn says that the first time she came to Literacy Advance, she was very impressed. She felt welcomed, and she liked how the office was very organized, the classrooms were clean and neat, and the friendly staff who received her the very first day of registration were very welcoming and helpful. She decided that day to stop working on Saturdays and to dedicate that day to her English classes. It was a difficult decision as that would impact the family finances, but she knew that without English, she and her family would be stuck in the same situation forever. It was time to invest in herself!

evelyn & rafaelBeing a student at Literacy Advance has been a unique and very special experience for her and her family, Evelyn tells us. She is now able to talk to her children’s teachers and they told her recently how impressed they were with her English! She can help her children with homework, and when her children are sick she can fill out the forms at the doctor’s office.
Making the most of every opportunity, Evelyn also registered for computer classes on Saturdays. She graduated from a 100-hour Basic Computer Class at Literacy Advance, provided by the Mexican Institute and United Way THRIVE, AND from a 50-hour Excel class after that. Her children are very impressed with the things she's learned! She can create documents on the computer, and learning Excel has improved her math skills. She told us that she now can create spreadsheets and keep track of her budget.
Evelyn works for an English-speaking family, and thanks to her classes at Literacy Advance she is able to communicate with them much better than before. She's able to ask for directions when using public transportation, she can go shopping by herself, and when she and her family go out, she can order from the menu in English.

To help keep her momentum going, Evelyn has borrowed one of the laptops from the Student Laptop Loan program at Literacy Advance, and uses it to practice and learn more English online, and to practice all that she learned in the computer classes.

Evelyn’s investment in herself is paying off in MANY more opportunities for her and her family. She's grateful for all that you made possible for her this year. THANK YOU.


Evelyn wasn't looking for a handout. She was looking for a hand, and you gave her one when she most needed it, by providing a safe and welcoming environment, and a multitude of opportunities. Her dedication is paying off many times over, in improved confidence, more life choices, and a better life for her and her family.

Thank you for your ongoing support of students like Evelyn. As we work to give more students on our wait-list a class in 2016, your continued support will make a real difference. Please give today and give another student the crucial help they need to make real changes in their life.



There's no argument - if someone you love has to go to the hospital, you'd go with them. Right? You'd drive them there and you'd be by their side through the questions and the tests and you'd be there to hear the results, and be ready to move forward with them, whatever they needed.

But what if you couldn't understand the doctor?

What if even the drive to the hospital was fraught, as you couldn't read the street signs well and you usually didn't drive at all?

What if all you could do was look anxiously at first your loved one, and then the nurse, as they explained what was going on - and you couldn't understand a word?

Even a few months ago, Yayoi would have been in that position when her husband got sick and had to go to the ER. But, thanks to the classes you made available at Literacy Advance Bay Area, the outcome was different.

"My husband was sick and I could understand the doctor."

What power in such a simple sentence!

Similarly - though perhaps less dramatically - thanks to her English classes, Yayoi has found herself better able to communicate with her daughter's teacher. "I could explain to my daughter’s teacher and we could discuss how to improve."

This is no different to what we all want, is it? To take care of those we love and to make sure our kids get the best chance in life that we can offer them.

Yayoi has certainly taken all the opportunities she could, after arriving in Texas 18 months ago with her husband and two young daughters. Her husband was instantly busy - they had moved for his work - but Yayoi knew she needed language skills before she'd be able to do all she wanted. She found Literacy Advance Bay Area.

"I am excited to be in real English world. And I was surprised at a free program is so well run. Because in Japan you would pay lot for language class. I had two teacher. Both good teacher dedicated to help student learn. We practice real life situations, like grocery shopping, restaurant, we could request what to practice. They are always thinking devise for us. I learn English by great support."

And Yayoi will soon be in a position to give back to the city she now calls home - she has her sights set on working in the medical field (she's a trained hospital nurse and had experience in Japan). Once her English is better she plans to get back on the ladder and work her way up.

Though we all have some things in common, regardless of language:
"I love Texas so much except hot summer, everything is 10 times bigger than Japan!"

Yayoi was a special guest at our recent Bay Area Open House, and also shared her story in the Bay Area Citizen.


Your support helps families prosper. Your provision of classes has made the difference between Yayoi being a lonely outsider, and being a productive and hopeful mom, moving forward into a bright future with her family.

Thank you. Please consider an end-of-year gift to help more students like Yayoi find their feet and become truly at home in Houston.



salkaImagine that, to have a chance of improving your life, you had to be apart from your partner for many months. Would you do it? Would you miss them?

Salka knew she would miss her husband Mahamadou, when he decided to move from their home country of Mali, in Africa, to Houston. But he was going to enroll in the University of Houston to learn English, and she knew it would give him a better chance to succeed. So she waved him goodbye.

Mahamadou worked hard, and won a scholarship from the English department to allow him to continue his studies. He knew he was making progress towards his goals, and he wanted his wife to have the same opportunities. So Salka also left Mali, and came to Houston too. That was two years ago.

When Salka first arrived, she knew no English. She couldn’t communicate with people; she couldn’t understand them when she went to the grocery store, the bank, and other places to run errands. She spent the majority of her day at home, limited by this language barrier that prevented her from exploring the city. She was alone, and very lonely.

After two months of this, she knew she had to do something. So with her husband’s support, she looked for English classes, and found Literacy Advance.

Salka joined one of our Outreach classes, at ECHOS (Epiphany Community Health Outreach Services), and hasn’t looked back! She’s been a regular attendee in her English class for almost two years, and continues learning at home by studying online.

And her progress has been immense! Thanks to the classes you provided, Salka has the tools she needs to embrace this great city she now calls home. She has her driver’s license and can go shopping by herself. In her spare time she visits friends and goes to the park to play with her children; she enjoys going to restaurants and to the mall with Mahamadou.

Most importantly, she can now take her children to the hospital and talk to the doctor. Trying to navigate this without English skills is a frightening thing to contemplate – but not something that Salka has to worry about, now that her English has improved so much. And she’s ready to take another English class, because she wants to keep learning to get her GED and then a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting.

Salka has these words of encouragement for other students:
 “Learn the language, it’s not easy, but have courage and listen to your teacher. Be nice to everyone in class and keep taking classes.”


There are many students like Salka who don't yet have a class.

Your support can make a new Houstonian's dream come true! Will you make a gift today and help a motivated, eager student get started down the road to success? Thank you for your ongoing support!



minaA newcomer to the United States, Mina felt discouraged. Very far away from her family in Iran, she was lonely, and suddenly much more distant from pursuing her career in Computer Software. Mina first discovered Literacy Advance on the internet, but came to Student Registration tentatively, and unsure of what her goals were, or what opportunities she might find.
Immediately after registering for classes, Mina started attending the Waiting Class and hoping for quick class placement. But just as her learning journey was beginning, Mina and her husband had to move to another neighborhood, which put Mina too far away from Literacy Advance to get to class. She was back to square one and wasn’t able to find other learning opportunities. She became discouraged all over again.

“I stopped coming to class and it made me so sad. I was thinking I just started.”

However, circumstances changed again, and when the couple had another chance to relocate, they made it a priority to make sure they lived close enough for Mina to return to English class. The new apartment was walking distance away! As soon as possible after the move, Mina was back in class.
During her time in her first English class, Mina developed not only her English skills, but also a lot of confidence to keep learning.

“Getting started was the hardest part, but my tutors didn’t give up on me.”

As Mina progressed, she found motivation to focus again on her career goals. She knew that she needed to gain more experience to enter the field of software development in a new country, so she met with the Transition Coach, Diana, to find ways of gaining new skills and maintaining her software coding abilities.  For almost a year, Mina consistently logged independent study hours in the computer lab, and she most recently completed an Excel computer class through our partnership with the Mexican Institute.

excel class
Mina, third from left, celebrates with the rest of her graduating Excel class.

Mina showed so much drive that she also became the first student to participate in our Student Laptop Loan program. She can now work at home, on job applications and software coding!
If you’ve visited the Wilcrest office lately, you may have met Mina. Inspired by the Volunteers in the Community presentation organized by one of our long-time tutors, Mina now volunteers at our front desk, answering phones and greeting guests. Mina says that the positive environment among Literacy Advance tutors and staff is what encourages her to keep learning. Now feeling free to speak, she’s sharing that positive energy with other Literacy Advance students.
Mina’s dedication doesn’t stop there! Guests at Story Time tours have heard Mina telling her story with great animation and great joy. She’s been practicing her speaking skills in front of an audience, as one of our fabulous student speakers! Mina knows that these skills, too, will help her as she’s looking onward to even bigger goals of continuing her education.

“Before, I could not imagine being where I am now. I felt lost... Now I have goals. My tutors helped me to believe in myself, and now I know I can do it.”


Mina's had great success, but she didn't get there on her own! Your support has made all these opportunities possible for Mina, and many others like her. THANK YOU for caring about our newest neighbors! Please give today and help more students take the first step toward changing their lives - for good.



antonioAntonio registered for English classes in September 2013 after arriving in Houston from Puerto Rico, where he had lived and worked as a construction engineer. He was born in Venezuela, and his parents are from China.

He learned about all the services that Literacy Advance offers, including the drop-in class we have for waiting students, and our Transition Services. As he was unemployed at the time, he decided to attend as many Waiting Classes as he could, and to make an appointment with the Transition Coach as soon as possible. He didn’t want to waste any time!

In the end, Antonio was one of the lucky ones – he waited for just less than 3 months for a class. This was mainly because his schedule was wide open – students who have more scheduling constraints can wait for longer than 6 months for an available classroom and a volunteer tutor. But even during those weeks, Antonio tried to get to every Waiting Class he could and he became a regular visitor to the Wilcrest campus. Later, he told us how the Waiting Class helped him gain more English skills and confidence:

“I learned a lot. When I started my first class at Literacy Advance I’m so nervous, because I didn't speak English at all. I felt better when I met other classmates, on that moment I knew then that all were in the same situation, we’re here to learn. I started to lose the fear of speaking and improved my reading, writing, and listening skills.”

As he started to look in earnest for a job, he found that the classes at Literacy Advance were helping him to introduce himself in interviews and to be more confident when talking to potential employers. During time spent with the Literacy Advance Transition Coach, he improved his resume, and was able to secure a job in a construction company.

He told us that he applied twice for that job. The first time, he used a resume he had written himself, but didn’t receive any response. The second time he applied was after he received help with his resume at Literacy Advance. That time, he got a call for an interview and was soon hired: a full-time job with benefits.

“Thanks to everyone for helping me achieve this goal; teachers and staff. That is why today I have my job.”

Antonio describes his experience at Literacy Advance as “one of the best educational experiences of my life, not just for the great tutors, but it was a complete system where you meet new friends from around the world.”

He said that his first tutor, Iana, helped him with his English so much that he was able to communicate with his boss much better and take more responsibility at work. He got his first raise that year, and continued attending English classes here.

His second tutor, Tiffany, helped him to polish his pronunciation skills even more. He said that he remembered that when he took his first speaking test, he had been told to work more on the ending sounds of the words. He asked Tiffany to help him with that, and his improvement is amazing! He got an almost-perfect score on his last speaking test.antonio

Now, Antonio is able to fully participate in meetings at work, and he has been promoted twice! He has been employed for 19 months and is earning a good salary. “I’m working with a construction company as Assistant Superintendent. The classes I took at Literacy Advance are helping a lot, because I can communicate with my co-workers and engineers. Sometimes I can use my first language, Spanish, to translate subcontractor issues with the superintendent and owner. That makes me very happy because I can help others to communicate.”

He also said he can go to restaurants and order food with ease, and also watch and understand movies and the news in English.

“I can communicate and understand almost everything. I can watch a movie without subtitle and I can understand. When I watch a joke TV program I can laugh because I understand the joke, before taking the classes this did not happen because I did not understand anything. I strongly recommend Literacy Advance to any student who wants learn, receive support and attention to learn English. They are the best!!!”


Your support makes success like Antonio's possible. Your donations keep  Transition Services running, the Waiting Class open, and give new students a chance in life. THANK YOU! Please give today to give more students an opportunity to transform their lives through the doorway of literacy.



It seems like it was just yesterday that Robert started his first class with Nancy, his volunteer tutor. Like many other adult literacy students, Robert sought out help because he knew his shaky reading and writing skills were holding him back from reaching his goals and making his life better. He was ashamed and frustrated. His desire for more for himself was what led him to WorkFaith Connection, one of Literacy Advance's partner organizations

Despite some difficulties, particularly at the beginning, Robert never got discouraged. Once he was done with his first class he continued with another, and another, and another... improving his literacy skills every week as he worked hard, both with his tutor and at home on his own.

Fast forward two years and Robert has just finished his fifth class with Nancy, almost 250 hours of class time. And he's finally ready to take a break. There's more to those words - “Robert's ready for a break” - than may at first be evident; some of the reason Robert has not wanted to pause his learning before was because he was worried about losing momentum. But there's a level of self-assurance there now that was missing before, and Robert knows that taking a break from class doesn't mean he'll lose what he's gained.

His personal growth is also self-evident. Robert has changed from a timid individual with low self-esteem to the empowered Robert who now wants to learn on his own, and he knows that he now holds the most powerful tool to deal with any obstacles he might come across – his ever-increasing confidence.

What a long way Robert has come since that first day of class more than two years ago! He still remembers the frustration of not being able to fill out a job application, and not being able to write a resume. However, those days are long gone. Robert now realizes he is not the same person he was before; he now believes in his abilities and most importantly, believes in himself.

Robert feels great and is now looking for a job in which he can help people, since this brings him great joy. He reads a lot now: newspapers, books, even a recent Agatha Christie novel!

robert's journal

Our mission at Literacy Advance is to transform lives thorough the doorway of literacy; and Robert’s life has truly been transformed. He has taken control of his life. And although he knows that he has still a lot to learn, he is no longer intimidated by the thought of it, but instead inspired and energized.

Robert is immensely grateful to Nancy, WorkFaith Connection, Literacy Advance, and everyone who has helped him (if you're a supporter of Literacy Advance, that includes YOU!). And Robert wants to take his newly acquired learning skills and continue learning, because, as he says:

"I know I can learn forever”.

THANK YOU for your support of students like Robert! Your gift, in any amount, will help more students grab life with both hands and move into a more confident future - please give today! Thank you for transforming lives!



Some students wait a long time before we have a class ready for them. There can be all sorts of reasons for this - classrooms aren't free at the right times; we don't have enough volunteers; students' availability can change due to jobs or other factors... And of course, there are just a lot of students waiting. It's frustrating for everyone.

Gerald waited a year for a class.

When the stars finally aligned and we called him with a schedule that worked, Gerald was matched with volunteer tutor Steve. Together, they've worked on reading and writing, as you'd expect, but one of the most significant gains that Gerald has seen from his class and work with Steve is the increase in his confidence.

Gerald can recognize this in himself. It's one of the things that made him feel OK about accepting our recent invitation to be a special guest speaker at Scrabble in the City, one of our annual fundraising events. Gerald was nervous, but he pushed through, coming to the event straight from work and practicing with the microphone, working out where to stand, and rehearsing some of the questions with Steve, who was going to interview him.

As the room filled with guests, Gerald whispered to Steve that he hadn't realized quite how big the crowd was going to be! But he also revealed that he'd always wondered if he'd have the ability to speak to a room full of people - and now he'd know.

Shortly after, we had the answer to that. The room was silent and attentive as Steve asked Gerald about his reasons for coming to class, and how he saw his future. Gerald talked movingly about his son, and how crucial it is to him to teach his son about the importance of education. He also spoke about how he wants to lead by example, persisting with lessons at Literacy Advance as an investment in his own future and that of his family, and as a demonstration of the difference learning can make.

gerald and steve

Steve (l) and Gerald at Scrabble in the City on May 28, speaking about their learning partnership.

As the interview came to a close, Gerald told the crowd that he had written a poem that day, especially for the event. He read it aloud:

Nimbus of Victory
Ahhh, refresh, a new day
With infinite time and space.
The world so vast with many things
But like the wild lion caged in the zoo
That longs to feed the elusive hunger in you
Filled with rage and sorrow...
But oh yes! There’s freedom tomorrow.
Empowering yourself to forge infinite possibilities
Assuring that no force would ever imprison tomorrow.
The trumpets of victory sound.
Courage, power, success,
And now focused on being the best.
No more shackles, no more imprisonment,
No more feeling unachieved or simply not smart enough...
There ain’t no looking back, no looking back.
I’m strapped in, announcing the countdown:
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 blast off –
To a new Literacy Advance
May you free your mind and success will follow.

gerald and clara

Gerald is determined to keep pressing toward his goals. Among them is to one day be back in the classroom as the tutor, and help another adult student. We think that day isn't far away.

Gerald and friend Clara enjoy the costumes at the Scrabble in the City photobooth, after he'd finished speaking to the crowd. See more pics here.

Can you help a student like Gerald achieve his goals?

Your donation can transform lives, and your volunteer time can make the future brighter for Houston families. Thank you for your support!



Imagine living in Houston without a car, or even the ability to drive. Mandana never needed driving skills back home in Iran, as she could take public transportation anywhere she needed to go. But after moving to Houston, she found more challenges than just her lack of English.

One of the first things we ask our adult students is how English classes can help them, and what personal goals we can help them achieve during their time with us. Mandana told us, after starting beginners' level English classes back in 2013, that Education, Jobs, and Transportation were her goals. After being matched with a volunteer tutor in a small group English class, she has been working towards her goals continuously!

She told us that getting used to life in Houston has been hard. She was used to having public transportation in Iran, but here in Houston, she doesn't know the bus numbers, and can't easily get a taxi. She had never driven a car before.

Mandana has been determined to achieve her goals. Since becoming a student at Literacy Advance, she has met a number of times with Diana Delgado, our Transition Coach, to get help with applying for jobs. Diana was able to help her with her resume and navigate the job application process.

And Mandana has already achieved so much!

She worked hard to get road-ready, and she's now a licensed driver, having passed all the tests! She's still working on getting a car of her own, but that will come.

Just this week, Mandana let us know that she was offered the job she applied for at McDonald's, and has just started working there three days a week. She was proud that she had been able to fill out all the application forms herself!

Mandana knows that computer skills are important for her, and will be an important part of her chance to get a better job and education in the future. She enrolled in the Beginners' Computer Class that started in January, a partnership between Literacy Advance and the Mexican Institute (made possible by United Way THRIVE!) and has had excellent attendance. She says she can now practice English at home on the computer using YouTube.

Mandana tells us that she loves learning. She loves learning English and learning computer skills. She wants to get a college degree from HCC, and although she struggles with culture shock and missing home, she’s thankful that she can have an opportunity for more education in the US, because she had little opportunity in Iran.

We're so proud of you, Mandana!

You've achieved so much already and we know that more success is ahead. Congratulations!

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