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Student Success Spotlights - 2016

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



glenda and her daughterGlenda was working as a substitute teacher and caregiver in a shelter for children.  She felt grateful that she had a job after being unemployed for seven months, but the location was far from her home, and her schedule was difficult. Glenda spent significant time driving every day, to be able to be at work at 3pm. By the time she got off work around midnight and got back home, she didn’t have any time to spend with her 14-year-old daughter.

Things at home were also challenging. Because of her work schedule, the relationship between Glenda and her daughter was suffering. Her daughter,  always a good student, was having problems keeping her good grades. In fact, she was failing, and Glenda didn’t know what to do.  Her only hope was to get a better job - but her lack of computer skills was a huge barrier.

Glenda was already registered at Literacy Advance and was also part of  Transition Services, working on her resume. When a new Basic Computer Literacy class started on Saturdays, led by the Mexican Institute and provided by United Way THRIVE, Glenda was invited to participate in it.

“That was the best call I have received in a long time; I accepted the class without even thinking about it. I knew I needed computer skills to find a better job.”

The class immediately had a positive impact on Glenda’s life. At work, she was able to work on the computer and prepare her classes using Power Point.

“Before, the kids would laugh sometimes because I didn’t know anything about computers and they always had to help me; I was nervous all the time thinking that I had to use the computer in class to teach my students. Now, I can use email much better. I can set up the computer by myself, and I can show the students the lessons and activities in Power Point. The first time I did that in class, my students were really impressed. I feel confident now and my class is always interesting and fun – the kids love my class!”

Glenda didn’t have a computer at home to practice, but she was able to borrow a laptop through the Student Laptop Loan program at Literacy Advance. Since then, she’s been able to practice everything she’s learning in the computer class, and she also prepares her lesson plans and presentations using the laptop. After graduating from her 100-hour Basic Computer Literacy class, she registered for an Excel Computer class and completed that one too!

Glenda’s commitment and dedication to improving her life is paying off. Her coworkers and supervisor noticed how well she now does on the computer. Her students also asked the principal to “have classes with Ms. Glenda again.” They love her class and she has been a role model for them as she is always learning, and preparing fun and interesting lessons on the computer. 

As a result of all her work, Glenda was offered a better job schedule and more responsibilities as a teacher. She started a project using the computer to track the progress of her students. Her supervisor and coworkers are impressed with her knowledge and self-confidence.

Because her work schedule is better, she now spends more time with her daughter at home and helps her with homework. Her daughter’s grades have improved tremendously and their relationship is great.glenda and her daughter

“You have no idea of the impact that this program and the computer classes have had on my life, and on my daughter's. I am a happy person now, thanks to Literacy Advance!”

And Glenda says that the impact of these classes on her personal life goes beyond her relationship with her daughter:

“You know I can sleep better now? It’s incredible! I feel healthy, I can sleep, my daughter is happy and making good grades, and I know I can do anything! I just applied for a Spanish Teaching Certification at University of Houston. I got a letter from U of H yesterday telling me that I need to submit two recommendation letters; I am so happy!”


You know what? YOU'RE the hero of this story. Classes are available and life-changing help is there because people like you stepped up to make them happen. Thank you for your support! Please give now to make sure that help is there for the next hard-working person, like Glenda, who needs it.



nura, bad weather class"Literacy Advance is the only place where I feel understood, where I feel at home."

Many of our students feel this way. In the scary new world of Houston, Texas, Literacy Advance can be a haven - a place to be understood; to talk to friends over a cup of coffee; to learn how to navigate a new culture and society.

Hang on a moment - Houston, scary?!
Of course, Houston is a friendly place - our volunteers prove that every day! - but it can be scary too, especially for newcomers. And one of the most frightening and unpredictable elements can be Houston's weather.

Many of our students grew up in countries where thunderstorms and flooding like those that have hit Houston in the last few years are just unheard of. And many don't have the first idea how to be prepared for a hurricane.

That's why, this past summer, we held a series of classes called Being Prepared for Bad Weather. Students learned how to access the help that's out there, how to prepare for a hurricane, and how to look after their family when bad weather hits.

Nura took part in one of these classes, and here's what she said about it afterward:

“Me, my husband and my baby came from Tunisia 8 months ago. Our English is very, very poor, people don’t understand us sometimes; it is really hard, really hard…

This class is very important for us, for my family. The tutor was clear, I can understand what he teach. He helps us to integrate to this community.

Now I can follow the rules when we have an emergency, a hurricane or very bad weather. I can have a plan for me and my family. I feel prepared. Now I know what to say in case of an emergency.

My husband’s English is very poor, I can speak more than my husband and now I have a plan for my family. This class is too important, so useful, thanks, thanks so much!”

Just see what a difference you've made to Nura! Because of ongoing support from people like you, she can face the next storm with confidence.


Literacy Advance takes no federal or state funding, relying instead on funding from the United Way, foundations, corporations - and people like you. Independent funding means we can start classes we think are important, like Being Prepared for Bad Weather, which so much helped students like Nura and her family.

Can you help? Your gift today will allow us to respond to the next important student need we see, and provide the classes our neighbors need, right here in Houston. Thank you for your support!


Special Student Success Focus: 10 for Literacy

September is National Literacy Month, and we're celebrating in many different ways. As well as our three 10 for Literacy goals, we're sharing 10 student success stories, written in their own words.

We hope you find them as inspiring as we do!

10 for Literacy
10 for Literacy
10 for Literacy
10 for Literacy
10 for Literacy
10 for Literacy
10 for Literacy
10 for Literacy
10 for Literacy
10 for Literacy

"My family is proud of me."
Are there tears in your eyes?!

If you've been moved by any of these stories, please commit to helping us reach one (or more!) of our 10 for Literacy goals, as we celebrate National Literacy Month throughout September. 10 new volunteers. 10 new monthly donors. 10 more Scrabble teams. Will you help?



fudia and karen

Stop for a minute and think about all the things you can do, because of what you learned in school. Can you make sense of your credit card bill? What about filling out a job application? Can you order exactly what you want in a restaurant and choose the perfect birthday card for your favorite cousin? Can you pick up a recipe book and browse through it, and stand in the airport and work out which gate you need to go to? Probably all those things, and a million more.

Fudia never went to school. Growing up in Sierra Leone, many of the kids never went, and the privileged few were usually boys. So Fudia grew up with a huge gap in her knowledge where reading and writing should have been.

When Fudia moved to the United States as an adult, she could speak English, but she couldn't read or write a word. Just moving across town is difficult enough; Fudia moved continents, moved cultures; moved a world away from everyone and everything she knew. And she couldn't read.

Any time Fudia needed to understand a form, to comprehend an application, to read the information sent from the Social Security office or from the city or from anywhere else, she had to ask for help. She was ashamed, and so discouraged. She wanted to be independent and she couldn't even get started.

Trying to get a job was a nightmare. Without basic skills, doors slammed in her face. After months of searching, she finally started her own business at home, braiding hair. It was better than nothing but it wasn't enough to support her and her son. Fudia was desperate.

Then she found Literacy Advance. Since she already spoke English, Fudia was matched with Karen, a basic reading volunteer tutor, and the two of them started working together. They began with the alphabet and the sounds of letters. Fudia learned to write her own name, for the very first time. She learned simple words. And as she learned, her confidence slowly grew.

Fudia's been in class now for almost two years, and her life has been transformed.

When her kids read out loud to her, she can help them.

She worked with the Literacy Advance Transition Coach, and found a job.

She completed a basic computer class.

She checked out a laptop through our Laptop Loan program to practice at home.

And best of all, Fudia celebrated July 4 last month as a brand new US citizen.

You've given Fudia so much: Confidence, independence, knowledge, skill. She's a better mother, a better worker, and a happier citizen, because of you. Thank you.


Fudia's success would not have been possible without your help.  Because of you, she has a job. Thanks to you, she became a citizen. With your support, the future is bright. Will you help another student like Fudia? Please give today.



Kevin was working alongside his father in the tree service business. They had one truck and employed a small group of men to help with the work. Business was fine, without being amazing.

But there was a problem - a significant one. Kevin's English was very basic and he was in constant need of someone to translate for him whenever he talked to his clients. This slowed him down and affected his work output. It also sapped his confidence and he was never sure he had fully understood what the clients were telling him. Every day, he came home frustrated.

He knew that learning English was the key. He imagined being able to work more efficiently, grow his business, and maybe even employ more workers. He imagined coming home satisfied with the day's work, and even looking forward to the day ahead.

So Kevin began the search for English classes. He needed a flexible schedule to fit around his work, and he couldn't afford a high cost.

After a search, he found the FREE English classes at Literacy Advance Bay Area. He registered and took a placement test. His first test showed him to be at a Low Beginning level, the lowest level possible.

But Kevin was not discouraged. Knowing he'd have to work hard, he started with a group of other beginners in May, 2015. They started by learning "hello" and "goodbye".

Kevin is now taking his third class at Literacy Advance, and his progress is wonderful! He's made it to an Intermediate level and is learning fast.

Even better, his life at work has been transformed!

"Now I can greet others, start conversations with others, and can even read traffic signs. Not only this, but now I can answer the phone in English as well.

I am in charge of one of the groups in our business. We have more contracts than before and I am able handle conversations with my customers at work and tell them what we do and how I can do it. I do not have to look around for others to help me translate. This motivates me to continue to come to class to continue to learn English."

Along with his success in class, Kevin's been able to expand his business. He and his father now own two trucks, and there are two groups of workers who set out each morning to do the day's work. And Kevin's pretty sure that soon, he'll be adding more.


Thanks to you and other steadfast literacy supporters, Kevin found the support he needed to learn English, grow his business, and transform his life.

Will you help another student do the same? Your donation could make all the difference. Please give today!



rolando at googleMany of you celebrated with us in early May, when we first announced Rolando's success in moving straight from English classes at Literacy Advance to a job at Google in California!

Below is his story, in his own words.

"When my wife and I arrived to Houston in late 2014, my English skills were poor. In Argentina, my native country, I had never studied English formally, so this transition was pretty hard for me.

I wanted to get a job related with my professional training in Computer Science, and I knew that to achieve this goal I first needed to improve my English skills.

At first I started with some particular English classes, which allowed me to learn some basics of English. But the cost of these classes was a bit high for my budget; I first needed to get a job to be able of paying a formal English training: I was in a vicious circle.

One day, looking for alternatives in internet that would allow me improve my English, I found out Literacy Advance of Houston.

After enrolling for classes, I started attending the Waiting Class, at the time I got a part-time job in a store which would allow me put in practice everything I was learning in class.

When the regular classes started, I immediately realized they would help me improve my English skills, since I was attending to a personalized training course, with my same English level and interests peers, leaded by an amazing, professional teacher, driving very dynamic and organized classes. Roslyn taught me a lot not just about English, but also the importance to wear helmet during my daily commuting on bicycle to attend to each class.

During the time these classes took place during the afternoon, I simultaneously started attending an intensive conversational English course during the evening, also in Literacy Advance.

After each class, I felt more and more motivated. When a class finished, I was already waiting for the next one. It was easy for me to finish my courses with no absences: I thoroughly enjoyed every class.

When I gained more confidence, I started working with Diana, Transition Coach at Literacy Advance, in adjusting my resume, to get prepared for my job search process.

The opportunity to work for Google soon came, to the point that I couldn’t attend to the last week of my course. I had to move to San Francisco to start working for the company of my dreams!"


Students like Rolando have so many of the skills they need to be successful - and just need help with the last step. Because of your support, there was a Waiting Class, a regular class, and a Transition Coach at Literacy Advance - all ready for Rolando as he was ready for them.

Will you continue to support Literacy Advance students who just need help with the last step toward success? Your gift will enable more students like Rolando to achieve their dreams. Please donate today!


Literacy & Music

Back in March, we told you Larysa's story. Part of her journey at Literacy Advance included participation in a special creative writing class, a partnership with Da Camera of Houston.

da camera class

This class was truly something unique. Most of the classes we offer at Literacy Advance focus, quite necessarily, on very practical skills. Students learn the English and reading skills they need to help them in their daily lives and to help them reach their goals, which are usually related to jobs, family, and further education.

But this class offered something completely different! With a focus on creative writing and the final product being poems that would later be set to music, students were able to use their new language skills in a new and exciting way. As Larysa told us, "this class opened my mind and helped me move from a technical mindset to a creative one."

da camera class

The Da Camera creative writing class, from left to right:
Donnella, Jose, Mina, teacher Jonathan Booker, Larysa, Olena, Karen.

Here's what student Mina had to say about this class:

minaThe design of the class was fun and truly creative.   Every single day in class we learned more about poems...

With everything that we have learned in class, my writing got better, my vocabulary expanded and I began to understand deeper meanings of the poems and anything I read in English.  

The class taught us about sentence structures, poem structures, type of poems, the fundamentals of creative writing, imagery, metaphors, symbolism and many other styles of poetry.  We also learned how to put many of these styles together to structure a poem. 

The style of the class guided me to put in more effort and it motivated me to practice more and use the things that I learned from the class.

With cumulative effort and support, and the things that I have learned from the class I was able to write my first English poem! 

The finale of this class was the performance of each student's poems, which had been set to music. The concert took place on Saturday, April 16, and was simply breath-taking. Mezzo-soprano Teresa Procter, accompanied by pianist Stephanie Ng, performed each piece in turn. The poems had been set to music by composer Mark Buller.

da camera concert

The performers, the teachers, and the writers! From left to right:
Pianist Stephanie Ng, Mezzo-Soprano Teresa Procter, Literacy Advance tutor Kathy Stockton, student Donnella Leon, student Larysa Chiski, student Olena Gurevych, student Mina Taheri, Da Camera teacher Jonathan Booker, Composer Mark Buller.

Below you can read each student's final masterpiece.

“Dance Is”
by Donnella Leon
Dance is magic.
Your legs, your feet, your body
in harmony with the rhythms.
Dance is happiness.
The way it starts,
everything is about feelings.
Dance is moving together
feeling the beat of the music in your heart.
There are no limits to expression.
Dance is flying to another hemisphere
with your dreams, your mind and your soul
as pure essence.
Dance is reality.
There is only that fleeting moment
when you feel alive.


"I Must Come Back"
by Karen Soledad Navarro
I must come back.
Chasing a thousand distant dreams
of being myself.
I lost myself in an ocean
of incomplete ideas.
Ideas like waves crashing
inside my head.
In the deep blue ocean of me
there is someone
telling my what I should do
or should not do.
Oh, bring me back
and make me brave.
Let me come back to myself.


"Old Round Table"
by Larysa Chiski
Old round table in the garden
why are you so sad?
What are your thoughts all about?
What do you dream from night to night?
You see the brightest flowers' show.
They change colors every month.
You breathe in the blossoming garden
and you enjoy talking to friends.
I know you miss those festive parties.
You were in the middle of them all.
You miss when family was together
singing songs, discussing life.
And now you wait for family to sit
around you, and tell the stories.
You will listen to them and smell
cakes and barbeque and wine.
I am waiting too
to be together and play
with the dogs and hug my mom,
I trust in God and I have hope
that family comes home again.


"You Are The Sunlight"
by Olena Gurevych
You are the sunlight in my day.
Give me warmth
and light my way.
You are the moon I see far away,
calming me in the night
and telling stories as a fay.
You are the greatest friend I know.
I need your advice and feel your support.
You are my mom, my love, my soul.
You are the best person in the world.


"Cloudy Tehran"
by Mina Taheri
Tall, glassy buildings
Long, noisy streets
Sleepless city
Cloudy Tehran
Gentle wind
carrying my memories
All my life, my reality
flying far, far away
Dying slowly
Lost in the darkest night
Bring back those cherished pictures
My identity
Far, far away
a small glimmer of hope
A glowing aura surrounding me
Reviving my life
Never coming back in the same way.
Tall, glassy buildings
Long, noisy streets
Sleepless city
Cloudy Tehran
My sweet memory


"Music Is"
by José Luis Morales
I hear a band
on the far side of
the park where I stand
The music is wind
when it blows
I move my branches
It is rain
that kisses my skin
sometimes fast
sometimes slow
It is the sun
that warms my leaves
and I stretch to see it
It vibrates in my roots
and makes me feel alive


rafael and kidsRafael

In 2008, Rafael arrived in Houston with many dreams.

"I thought things will be easy here, I just wanted to work and help my family that I left behind in my country."

But things didn’t turn out so easy for Rafael. It was difficult for him to adapt to this new culture, and there was a big obstacle in the way of his dreams: his lack of English skills. 

Rafael started to look for information and resources to learn English. He tried books, searched and learned on websites, watched TV in English, and much more. He started noticing that his vocabulary was slowly getting better. 

But he wanted to learn faster. Finally, in 2012 he found Literacy Advance and he registered for English classes.

"Literacy Advance was exactly what I needed! I remember my first day there, I was impressed by the office, the staff was kind, and the classes were organized, I fell in love with Literacy Advance!"

All the things Rafael had already learned, he started practicing again in the Waiting Class, while he waited to be placed in his permanent class. Rafael recalls that his first tutor motivated him to use his existing vocabulary, and to form completed sentences, and that encouraged him to talk to other tutors and students.

He said that all our volunteer tutors have always given him a lot of personal attention, and have a lot of patience, which has helped him feel much more confident to practice his English more.  As Rafael’s confidence and English skills improved, so did the possibility of better job opportunities.evelyn & rafael

Rafael also encouraged his wife, Evelyn, to register at Literacy Advance. Both of them currently attend classes and have shown great progress.

In the past, Rafael was afraid and embarrassed to go out with his family to dinner because he didn’t understand the menu or know how to order food. Now Rafael goes out with his family and orders food in English with no problem at all! He’s also very involved in his children’s schooling and can speak with the teachers in English. They have complimented his efforts and the progress he has clearly made. He also helps others who are still struggling with their language skills and motivates them to learn English too. 

rafael at workRafael works as a welder in construction, and learning and improving his English abilities has made a big difference in Rafael’s life and that of his family. 

"Before, I couldn’t understand the directions my boss gave me so I was doing the hard jobs. My situation at work was difficult.  I learned English and my boss noticed it and gave me a promotion. Now, I can understand my boss, and sometimes I give him ideas about how to do the job, and he is happy with my work. My English classes at Literacy Advance changed my life completely."  

rafael at work Rafael on the job, defying gravity!
rafael at work With much more confidence than before, Rafael talks with his boss with a solution for one of the day's problems.
rafael at work What a difference! Rafael's able to read his workplace handbook in English, thanks to the classes you provided for him!


Your investment in classes at Literacy Advance pays off every day for students like Rafael. Lives are changed, families are transformed, and new doors of opportunity open. Thank you!

Can you help one more student get off the wait list and into their regular class? Your gift today will open a door for a waiting student and help them make a giant leap toward making their dreams come true.



Larysa in da camera class

Larysa - center - in a creative writing class held as a partnership between Literacy Advance and Da Camera of Houston (more about this class below).

"I have achieved my goals." Over and over, we find that the simplest statements are the most profound. Just five words - and yet they mean hope, success, joy, contentment, transformation - and a lot more besides.

Larysa spent a year in classes at Literacy Advance, and here she tells her story in her own words.

"When I came to Houston I had a little to know about local way of life and spoke a little English.

I started looking for ESL classes on internet and found the best available option for me in Literacy Advance of Houston. I started to take regular classes on February last year.

I took almost all available classes such as regular classes, finance literacy, resume preparing, creative writing* and intensive class of mastering American accent. It took one year to become comfortable with comprehension and speaking.

Thank to guidance of Literacy Advance of Houston staff and volunteers I have improved my English significantly.

In the beginning of each class I set up goals for me. They were the same: to be able fluently communicate with my American friends, to manage health related questions and to get a professional job.

The year has left. Although my English still has enough room for improvement and my learning process has not finished yet, I would state that I have achieved my goals.

larysa at work
Larysa at her "first professional American job"!

I can discuss with my friends culture events, movies and news. I can handle my health issue with local healthcare facilities by myself and I got my first professional American job.

Thank to Betty McGarvey, Joan Kelly, David Soper, Diana Delgado, Rodrigo Canedo, Ruth Iglesias and Amanda Stamplis for helping me to make it happened. I appreciate Literacy Advance of Houston impact on my life and would strongly recommend this organization to any person as an effective tool in looking new way and achieving goals."

*Larysa's creative writing class was a joint venture between Literacy Advance and Da Camera of Houston (see photo at top). This partnership allowed us to offer something different: The students would improve their English skills through music! The lessons covered definitions and discussions on topics like metaphors and imagery, and led up to the creation of poems based on the life and experiences of each individual student.  

Larysa told us that this class opened her mind and helped her move from a technical mindset to a creative one. At the beginning of the class, she had doubts about being able to write a poem, since her background in financial analysis and planning was more methodical than creative; when the class was done it was wonderful to see her prove herself wrong and to read her poem about the old round table in the garden of her house in her native Ukraine:

“I know you miss those festive parties.
You were in the middle of them all.
You miss when family was together
singing songs, discussing life.”   


You'll hear more about this fabulous class at a later date...


Can you just imagine how Larysa feels, one year on, and able to say that she has achieved her goals?! You made that possible. Your support opens all sorts of opportunities, from the creative to the practical - and just look what people do with the opportunities you provide. Thank you!

Can you help one more student say that they've achieved their goals? Your gift today will open a door for a waiting student and set them on the path to success.


UPDATE: Antonio's latest successes!

You met Antonio last August, when he was first spotlighted here on this website, and maybe you also read about him in our most recent newsletter (don't get the newsletter?! Quick, sign up now!).

But now there's more good news from Antonio! Here's an update from our Transition Coach, Diana Delgado:

antonio"Antonio just came by to pick up his Completion Certificate for the English program. He was very excited about it, and he also let me know all the things that he can do at work now that his English is much better!

He was given the responsibility of purchasing supplies and materials for the projects that his [construction] company has here in Houston. He said that not long ago, he would avoid talking on the phone in English with managers and contractors, but now he has no problems calling his manager and ordering supplies and materials. He also participates actively in meetings and teleconferences.

He told me:

They all understand me, and I understand everything they say.

Antonio also added that he can proudly say that he can speak three languages, Spanish, Mandarin, and English! He was recently given a raise and is enjoying work like never before."


There's a Transition Coach on the Literacy Advance team because of YOUR support. Antonio had classes to go to and was able to graduate from our highest level of English classes because YOU made sure there were resources and a classroom, and that trained tutors were ready to help him. Will you help another student like Antonio today? As you can see, your gift can go a long way!


2015: A Year of Successes

Just look what you did!

If you know us at all, you'll know that one of our FAVORITE things is to celebrate the successes of our students.

But if you're a supporter of Literacy Advance, with your time, your talents, or your treasure, these successes are yours as well.

THANK YOU. Thank you from Mandana, Gerald, Robert, Antonio, Mina, Salka, Yayoi, and Evelyn.

Thank you from the thousands of people whose lives were transformed in 2015 because of the classes you provided. You created a welcoming, safe place of learning for more than 1,600 adults last year and you've made Houston a better place.

We love you! Thank you!

Don't forget - you can read new Student Success stories every month, in your e-News. Don't get the e-News? Sign up today!

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