Willie Jenkins saw his two older brothers and three older sisters go to college, but he never even made it to high school.
Eventually diagnosed as dyslexic, Jenkins, 48, went through elementary and junior high school “just by attending.. … Nobody paid attention.”
He says he knew his letters and vowels but was never able to put words together. He became depressed and turned to drugs.
Today, Jenkins lives at Get Back Up, a residential substance-abuse treatment facility, where he’s learning to read in classes taught by Detroit Literacy Coalition (DLC) tutors. When he has nightmares, reading calms him down.
“I feel a little more peaceful,” Jenkins says, adding that he’s no longer embarrassed by not being able to read. “I make it through the day a little more pleasant.”
The DLC teaches GED, reading, math and social skills at Get Back Up. Jenkins began his classes at a third- to fourth-grade reading level. A year later, he’s at a sixth- to seventh-grade level.
“I felt powerful,” Jenkins says of the first time he read something after taking classes. “It really boosted my self-esteem.”
He reads his Narcotics Anonymous book, the Bible and social studies and math class materials.
Deborah Stewart Anderson, DLC associate director, started as a volunteer tutor in the late 1980s. “It’s just a game changer for them,” she says. “And in helping change their life, it helps to change yours.”
Reading Works can help DLC acquire critically needed instructional materials, office space, software and tutor training materials.
Jenkins’ counselor at Get Back Up, Vicki McTaw, says, “He’s doing fantastic.”
“He went a couple of notches up,” McTaw says, adding that when Jenkins completes his treatment and classes, “I don’t expect to see him for a real long, long, long, long time.”
Jenkins, who wants to go to college and study nursing, knows he’s not ready to take the GED. But, he says, “I’m still motivated. I’m not giving up.”
Profile by Naomi R. Patton/Detroit Free Press
Photography by Kathleen Galligan/Detroit Free Press
More profiles of people from these Reading Works partner literacy agencies: ACCESS | Beyond Basics | Detroit Literacy Coalition | Dominican Literacy Center | Mercy Education Project | Macomb Literacy Partners | Oakland Literacy Council | Siena Literacy Center | Another Chance (Wayne State University)