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.
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.
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 found employment through Experience Works Senior program in 20216, but she knows she needs to keep improving her skills.
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.”