Serving around 200 students in Franklin and Hampshire counties, The Literacy Project provides free high school equivalency preparation classes for adults.

With the goal of having its participants engage meaningfully and equitably in the economic and cultural aspects of their communities, the non-profit offers a variety of resources and even some creative courses.  

Zydalis Bauer spoke with Judith Roberts, Executive Director at The Literacy Project, along with students, Christian Morales and Debb Gonzalez, to hear more about the impact of the program.  

This story originally aired on March 10, 2022.

Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Serving around 200 students in Franklin and Hampshire counties, the Literacy Project provides free high school equivalency preparation classes for adults.

With the goal of having its participants engage meaningfully and equitably in the economic and cultural aspects of their communities, the nonprofit offers a number of resources and even some creative courses.

I spoke with Judith Roberts, Executive Director at the Literacy Project, along with students Christian Morales and Debb Gonzalez to hear more about the impact of the program.

Judith Roberts, The Literacy Project: We are a small local nonprofit just in Franklin and Hampshire County — we’re in five towns: Amherst, Northampton, Greenfield, Orange, and Ware.

And we’re a GED preparation program. So, our students are studying in five subject areas: reading, writing, math, science and social studies. And along the way, they really fall in love with learning, and often fall in love with reading and writing and even math. So, we try to keep our classrooms small, warm, and welcoming.

Right now, our classes are totally online because of the pandemic, and we’ve been able to give computers to folks so that they can join us online.

And we really believe that it’s never too late to learn that everybody deserves a second chance at success and that education is truly the stepping stone to a better life.

So, most of our students come to us saying that they — they want to get their GED, their high set, so that they can get a better job. But there’s also a ripple effect to this, because more than half of our students are parents. And so, they’re better able to help their kids with the kids’ homework once they attain their education goals.

So literacy really, really changes lives. And don’t get me wrong, our students come to us, they can read. They just need to improve skills to pass the high set. But once our students are able to attain their education goals, they’re better able to support themselves and their families. So the whole community benefits.

Zydalis Bauer: And I know that everybody has a different reason for taking classes at the literacy project.

So Debb and Christian, what are your stories behind why you decided to start joining classes at the Literacy Project?

Christian Morales, The Literacy Project: I joined Literacy Project because I had gone down a horrible path. I had some personal issues going on in my life, where I was just mentally unstable and I was very unhappy. I got to the point where I even wanted to take my own life and I ended up in the hospital.

And when I woke up, I decided, you know, I decided to stop drinking, which drinking was something that it was a big issue for me. I drank every day. I mean, I’ll spend like $300 a week on drinking alone.

So, I got out of the program that I was in, and I came up to this house called the Vanderburg House here in Greenfield. It’s a sober house. And that’s — that’s where I am now. And one day I was I was upset about something, something started bothering me. And I decided, you know what, I need to do something. I need to keep my mind busy.

And I called Literacay Project and I talked to Josh out there. Very great guy, I love Josh! Very easy to talk to and he helped me zip right through it. I think I was with the Literacy Project, I think four or five days and I got and I passed my high set. And the same day that I passed it, I got into GCC.

Zydalis Bauer: And Debb, what was your reason behind joining the Literacy Project?

Debb Gonzalez, The Literacy Project: I was a high school dropout and I end up getting pregnant young. I was 18, so I tried to go back to school. I just decided to do motherhood.

And I tried again when I had my daughter when I was 26. That didn’t work out. And I just said, “Forget it. I’m never going to try again. I’m obviously never going to get my GED.”

And then I moved from the city and I came to Greenfield and I reached out to a school, I said, “I need to do something with my life. You know, I’m 37 now.”

And then my son just graduated from high school in June and he — he made me cry on graduation day because he said to me, he said, “Mom, look, I did the one thing that you couldn’t do and that was graduate.”

And that hurt me so bad that I said, “You know what, I’m going back to school.”

So I came here in July, I started in September. I graduated from getting my high set in December. So, I was, like, so proud of myself that I did it within the same year that my son graduated. Because I told him, I said, “You’re going to eat your words, buddy. You’re going eat to the words.”

And I sure did. So, the first phone call that I made when I passed my high set was to my son. And I said, “Well, bud I guess you’ll be coming to my graduation.”

So, I’m like, so excited for graduation in June.

Zydalis Bauer: Judith, I know that you’ve described the program as having an arts and humanities slant.

Why is that the case and what creative programs do you offer?

Judith Roberts: Right now, we have a memoir writing project and students are writing their memoirs. One student said to me that she came to the United States because she wasn’t safe in her home country, but in our classroom, she feels safe to have her memories and write about them and share them. And that’s just such a beautiful thing.

So we also are part of the workforce development. All these skills and the computer skills, the reading, writing, the speaking are all part of that as well.

Zydalis Bauer: As an adult that — the hardest part of starting something new is just having the courage to even begin it.

So, what words of encouragement do you all have that you would like to share with somebody that might be in the same situation?

Christian Morales: What I would say is just do it and you’ll be surprised what you can do. And that will give you a lot of fuel to keep going, you know, to get yourself out of that rut, that feeling like worthless, that feeling like you’re stuck.

Just do it. Don’t — there’s no secret formula. You know, no one’s going to come through that front door and be like, “Come on, I’m going to take you long. We’re going to get your goals.” You just got to get up and do it.

Debb Gonzalez: Have a good mindset and know that knowledge is power. You know, you’re never too old to do anything. I’m 37 and I’m going to continue this. I’m probably going to be in college till 80, 90 years old.