For years, Alberta Whitaker hid the pain she felt over not being able to read. After all, it was easy to hide. She had graduated from high school—surely a sign of education and accomplishment—and she had raised six children while working as a school bus driver for 17 years.
But not being able to read or write well, even after having a high school diploma, meant she encountered a number of small humiliations every day. She felt out of place at meetings where she had trouble understanding notes and conversations. She could not always help her children when they struggled in school. Some people Alberta met were quick to express their frustration with her. Her opportunities for good jobs were limited.
“People who have an education don’t understand how much it hurts on the inside,” says Alberta, “I made up my mind to go back to school.”
Alberta, originally from Georgia, feels it was very “unfair” for the school system to push her through without really equipping her with the skills she desperately needed. “I felt nobody cared. I needed help, and I didn’t get it,” she says.
Now living in Syracuse, Alberta is assisted by The Newland Center (formerly The Learning Place), a nonprofit organization that provides free adult literacy programs to anyone needing help in the area. Her mother and sister had made use of the center’s services in the 1990s. Now, her sister, Vera, is working on an autobiography while her mother is continuing to improve her reading skills.
Inspired by their success, and driven by her own determination, Alberta is slowly transforming her life. In one year, she has moved from reading at a fourth grade level to a seventh grade level. “I’m just filled with joy,” says Alberta. “I’m full of determination. Learning to read better is like opening my eyes.”
No one is prouder of Alberta than her tutor Ann Derr. “She’s an incredibly motivated student,” says the retired educator, who has been working with Alberta for just over a year. “It has been just delightful. I will take her as far as she wants to go.”
And how far does Alberta want to go? Her children are now grown and pursuing lives of their own. Alberta is unemployed, and though she’s eager to reenter the job market, she knows she needs to keep improving her skills in order to do so.
With digital literacy essential in today’s workplace, another tutor, John Briggs, is helping her with her computer skills. He is also helping her understand her benefits as a veteran’s wife.
Reaching out to The Newland Center has made Alberta realize that she too wants to reach out to others. Her goal is to one day be a counselor and to be able to provide young people with the help she did not receive early on. “I don’t want other people to be hurting on the inside, like I did.”
To hear more about Alberta, listen to the radio segment from WAER in Syracuse, NY.
News article featured by ProLiteracy on February 9, 2012.