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YMCA program gives adults a chance to read

Rebecca Burk / L’Observateur / April 16, 1998

RESERVE – Over the nine years the YMCA has had educational services in St. John the Baptist Parish, hundreds of people have learned to read andhave been able to sharpen other skills, said coordinator Wanda Dauzat.

One of those woman – we’ll call her Jane – has an incredible story.

Jane, a B student, graduated from Grace King High School in Metairie in the late 1970s and got a job as manager of the clothing store, Merry-Go- Round, at Lakeside Mall.

She had ambitions and goals. She wanted to be in the Olympics. She ran andbiked every day with such fervor that even rain didn’t stop her.

But in 1979, on one of her biking trips between Lakeside and the airport, tragedy struck. Jane, then 20, was run over by a truck that drove awaythen hit by the car following the truck.

Hospitalized for about three months, her hopes of being in the Olympics diminished because she had to learn to walk again. And not only that, shehad to learn to remember everything, for the impact of the truck and car caused her to lose her memory.

Jane’s amnesia case was very severe – so severe that she not only forgot family members and events in her life, but she forgot one of the most important basics.

Jane forgot how to read.

“It was a hit and run accident, and I lost all of my memories,” she said. “Icouldn’t read or spell or pronounce words. I bought little books for mygodchild and watched him read, and when he left I tried to read and I couldn’t. I felt bad.”She was ashamed of the fact she was illiterate. She told no one and gotjobs at convenience stores and gas stations to survive. She tried to go tovocational school several times but failed because she couldn’t read.

“Every time I tried to go vo-tech school, I could never get past the basics,” Jane said.

With her self-esteem plummeting, she knew she had to do something. Soafter almost 20 years of hiding the fact that she couldn’t read, Jane searched for help. She joined the Metairie branch of the YMCA’seducational services, then joined St. John’s branch when she moved to theparish.

“When I started I couldn’t read and understand,” Jane said. “I couldn’tspell or pronounce words.”Her tutor, Millie Williams, has been a great help to her, Jane said.

“Ms. Millie is like a mother that wants to see her child do good,” she said.And do well she did. Jane, although not finished with the program, alreadyhas a new job at a clothing store.

“I’ve got another book to finish and an exam,” Jane said. “After I finish Iam going to try to go to vo-tech to do something else. But I can read now,and it feels good.””She’s doing great now,” Dauzat said of Jane. “She is working now at afull-time job at a clothing store. She told me now that when people comeup to her she can address them by their name because she can read what the checks say.”The program can help anyone over 16 who is not in school and who is illiterate or just struggling in many areas, including reading, writing, math and English as a second language, Dauzat said.

Students meet with their tutor on a one-on-one basis twice a week for hour-and-a-half sessions.

“There’s no set time when they meet,” Dauzat added. “They meet at theirown convenience.”Right now there are 10 students and nine tutors, but Dauzat believes there are many more people in the community just like Jane who are struggling but ashamed to ask for help.

“It’s because they are embarrassed and their self-esteem is really low and they don’t want anyone to know that they are here,” she said.

Students have to go through four skill levels before they complete the program, Dauzat said. Sometimes it takes less than a year, but it can alsotake up to 18 months, depending on what level the student is.

“They learn at their own pace,” Dauzat said.

The program, funded through United Way, prepares students to take their GED, Dauzat said.

“Once they leave us they are on pre-GED level,” she said.

Dauzat said the program is struggling for students now, and she hopes more come to ask for help.

“The hardest thing for us to get is students because it is really hard to reach them,” Dauzat said.

Jane credits her survival and success in learning to God.

“God has brought me from a long way and will bring me many more,” she said. “I know with all of my might that He protected me.”She is finally almost able to do what she wants with her life and hopes other people out there follow her courage and do the same thing.

“I want to help someone who is faking it to make it,” Jane said. “Theydon’t have to be ashamed. I don’t want them to feel separated like I did.”I don’t want to go back on social security because I want to do something positive,” she added. “From the Y, I will be able to take a test at a tradeschool and do something else. I’m going to get through it and be what Iwant to be. I’m just grateful to the Y for being able to help me because Icouldn’t afford to keep going and going to trade school.”For more information about YMCA educational services, call Dauzat at 536-2828.

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