Rejoyce R. stepped up to the podium at the Mission City Center for the Performing Arts on April 6 and began to speak. Within seconds, she started tearing up. The courage it took for her to speak in front of the crowd sparked an encouraging wave of applause from the audience. What they learned about Rejoyce was something most people take for granted – up until recently, Rejoyce had a difficult time reading.
“I went to clean Mr. Jimmy’s and Miss Marie’s house,” read Rejoyce from her essay, “From Shame to Leadership.” “Mr. Jimmy wanted me to mop the floors with a special cleaner that was under the kitchen cabinet. My workers were in other parts of the house, so it left me to find the cleaner myself.
“I knew what the products in my bucket were, but not the ones under his sink. I was under there looking for it so long that he came up to me and asked, ‘Baby, do you have trouble reading?’ I said, ‘Yes, I do.’ There were only two people in my life who ever got me to say that. I felt like somebody understood me. Even though Mr. Jimmy knew how to read, it was like a weight was lifted off of me because someone knew and understood.”
Once Rejoyce admitted she had problems reading, she was able to find help at the Santa Clara Library’s Adult and Family Literacy Program. Each year, students in the program have the option to write short essays on a given topic for a chance to be recognized. The stories are published in a book called “In Our Own Words: A Book of Learner Writings.”
“Every year we publish a book and the reason we do that is because when reading is a struggle for adults, writing is terrifying. Imagine how you could carry on in your life if you couldn’t write a note or write a letter, or even fill out a form in a doctor’s office,” said Santa Clara Library Literacy Program Supervisor Shanti Bhaskaran.
“We do a writing contest every year, so we start with that and usually there’s a topic for the contest. This time it was What Makes Me Happy. Learners are encouraged to write about that topic and then, throughout the year, if they have a story that they are interested in, they can submit stories through late fall.”
The books are put into the library’s adult reader collection and the local history collection. Learners need to be at least 16 years old and not in school. “Currently, our youngest is in his 20s and, as you saw, our oldest is 90 years old,” said Bhaskaran. Learners set their own goals and the tutors, who are given 12.5 hours of training through the library, help the learners reach them. There is no residency requirement and the program is free. “We don’t have a typical learner,” said Bhaskaran. “What we do require is that all of our learners are able to converse in English. They may not speak English perfectly but they are able to understand and be understood…For the last 18 years we have served at least 100 learners every year.”
Visit http://library.santaclaraca.gov/index.aspx?page=1377 or call (408) 615-2956 for more information.