The Woodward News

June 9, 2013

Literacy Council can open door to a new life

Rachael Van Horn
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — The ability to read is something most take for granted. But for two women of Woodward, reading was a privilege they were willing to earn and it opened the door to a different life.

Silvia Flores, 32, and Karla Rivas, 24, spent hundreds of hours of their personal time sitting with a Northwest Oklahoma Literacy Council tutor learning to speak English, but their determination didn't stop there. Both refused to give up until they could read and write the language, sticking it out when there were many reasons to give up and quit.

The Northwest Oklahoma Literacy Council is a non-profit organization that receives a good portion of its meager budget from the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, the United Fund as well as public donations and a private grant from Dollar General. It uses those funds to purchase curriculum materials such as pens and pencils, picture dictionaries as well as tapes and books to assist tutors in training English as a second language clients and helping adults learn to read.

NWOLC has recently launched another fundraiser designed to help beat their financial budget crunch, said program director Jan Wills.

"Adult learners here have been earning free curriculum by participating in a recycling program," Wills said. "They collect empty ink cartridges, cell phones, small electronics and laptops from the community and send in the waste products in exchange for cash to purchase curriculum."

Any businesses who want to donate any of those items or used ink cartridges can drop them by the Woodward Public Library, Wills said.

"We so appreciate any help we can get to keep offering these services to people like Karla and Silvia, said NWOLC volunteer Betsy Baker.

Rivas first came to the U.S. when she was 15-years-old with her parents. The first thing her parents did was put her in school at Clinton, where they were living.

"I cried and cried because I didn't speak English and I didn't know anyone," Rivas said. "Then I started to learn and tried to speak but people laughed when I said it wrong."

Back then, she never thought she would be attending Certified Nurse Assistant training at High Plains Technology Center, let alone passing the test and earning her CNA certificate. Add to all those accomplishments after high school, that she studied almost non-stop for the last six months to take her driver's exam and did all of this while struggling with lymphoma and you have a pretty good picture of who Rivas is.

Yet, despite her tenacity, if you ask Rivas how she did it, she will point to one of the Oklahoma Literacy Council tutors and smile.

"You can say that they deserve the credit," she said. "I am their friend and they are mine," she said and patted the table just in front of Baker's hands. Betsy's sister, Judy Barker, tutored Rivas.

Flores, who has been with the program more than four years, feels the same.

Fourteen years ago, Flores came to the United States with her husband. Today, she is an American citizen.

"I am so proud," she said and smiled shyly.

It was Flores's work with Baker and the Literacy Council that enabled her to take and pass the exam to be come an American Citizen two years ago. But even when she passed that exam, she continued to learn to read and write English because she wanted to be able to be involved in the school lives of her Children Fatima, 12 and Henry, 8.

"I am still so proud of myself because now when my son gets a note from school, I can read it and know if what he did was good or bad," she said and giggled.

Flores, who is still working hard at not only speaking English but thinking in English, is enthused about her growing knowledge. She can help her children with their homework and enjoys reading books with them.

"My son likes the "Clifford" books and my daughter, she's into the "Twilight" series," she said.

But mostly she is proud of the day she walked in to take the test to become a citizen.

"My son, Henry, when I became an American citizen told me the day I got my citizenship that he didn't want to hear me speak Spanish anymore because now I am an American," she said.

For everything these two women have accomplished, both point to their tutors at NWOLC as their motivation.

If you ask Baker, it was she who was blessed.

"I started donating my time four years ago," Baker said. "I have led a very sheltered life. I did not know what lengths people would do to become a citizen of this country let alone learn to read. They are so remarkable."