Melissa Stoner and Sharon Buehrer started meeting in March of 2008. Melissa, a young mother of three children, desperately wanted to obtain her GED. Earlier in her life she had dropped out of high school to find work that would help financially support her family. Struggling with serious health issues and declining vision, she knew she needed to earn her GED to be able to take good care of her children.
A student at the local catholic high school decided to do his senior project volunteering at the James V. Brown Library's Learning Center, a program that receives funding from Lycoming County United Way. The program provides basic literacy and other instruction in reading, writing, and mathematics in a classroom setting or through one-on-one tutoring. Preparation for passing the GED or other high school equivalency tests is offered, as well as English language learning for non-native speakers of the English language.
"The mission of the Learning Center, to teach adults how to read, is vitally important to the overall ability of an individual to function in today's society," said Scott N. Lowery, LCUW executive director. "Reading is of paramount importance to achieve success as a parent, an employee or to be operationally aware of the world around you."
The student asked Sharon, the local librarian at his school, to mentor his project.
They both attended the volunteer tutor development workshop. Sharon wasn't sure if she could teach someone reading and writing, but she used the image of the "Indiana Jones" movie scene as encouragement and stepped out to find her own clear bridge, said Linda Herr, director of the Learning Center program.
"It all began when I decided to retire," Sharon said. "What would I do with my life if I took this step? I thought of Indiana Jones and his search for the Holy Grail of Christ. He had gone through so much getting to the location in the diary and when his quest was only a doorway away, there was a deep chasm that he had to get across. So I took that leap of faith and things began to happen."
Melissa said that failure was not an option for her and she didn't use excuses to quit. For more than three years, she met with Sharon once or twice a week. Melissa persisted, learned, studied, and never gave up.
"Melissa had many visual problems to overcome when I first met her in the fall of 2008," Sharon said. "She had dropped out of school in her sophomore year because she was experiencing some behavioral problems, but mostly because she needed to help out with the family finances."
According to Sharon, Melissa had recently been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. She continued to work long hours as a telemarketer until her eyesight began to fade. She soon became legally blind.
"When we first began to work together, I had to learn to create special materials that she could read," Sharon said. "Her eyesight gradually began to improve over time, with the help of her doctor."
Even when medical operations interrupted her studies, Linda said Melissa held on to the clear vision of obtaining her GED.
"Melissa says that Sharon listened and used her interests to help her stay focused," Linda said. "Her children kept her positive, her responsibilities kept her positive, and Sharon kept her positive."
When the pair began working on mathematics the Learning Center's funding was eliminated by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
According to Sharon, staying connected to the program was important to her so she received additional training.
Melissa entered into her final test math while battling the flu.
But even worse, she was unable to see the answer sheet required to use for the test due to her vision problems. The "bubble" system would not work for her. She walked out of the exam in total frustration. She was unable to complete the test. Fortunately, the proctor allowed her to take the test again, with his assistance. In February 2012, Melissa received her diploma.
"We couldn't have done it without the help and encouragement of the James V. Brown Library Learning Center and the United Way," Sharon said. "In the spring of last year, the library lost its funding and it was United Way that came to the rescue to continue to support a skeleton crew of staff, tutors, and supply materials to reach students' needs."
"Several years ago, it was brought to my attention that 15 percent of the adults in Lycoming County could not read above a third-grade level," Lowery said. "The Learning Center directly addresses this issue by providing one-on-one tutors to help individuals read, obtain their GED and become productive. They are definitely meeting a critical need in this community and we are glad to lend our support to this literacy mission."
Please consider giving to Lycoming County United Way campaign this year. The affects of your donation reach neighbors in your community just like Melissa, who may find themselves facing a hardship. For more information, visit www.lcuw.org.