According to the Institute of Education Sciences and United States Census Bureau data, approximately 15,108 residents of Minnehaha, Turner, Lincoln and McCook Counties lack basic literacy skills. That amount of people is enough to fill the Sioux Falls Arena two and a half times.
Kezhal Aware moved to Sioux Falls from Iran with her husband and seven-month-old daughter in 1977 at the age of nineteen. She didn’t speak a word of English and for the first six months here, she was terrified.
With the help of volunteers from Lutheran Social Services, Kezhal slowly began to learn English. She started working during the day and going to school each night. While her speaking and comprehension improved, she still struggled with reading and writing. That was until a librarian who noticed her frequently with her children recommended REACH, a Sioux Empire United Way Funded Program that provides one to one tutoring of adults who want to learn to read and write.
“I never had the opportunity to go to school and read back in my country or in America,” said Kezhal. “I knew it was a good fit for me as it was during the evenings and something I could afford – plus I was eager to learn.”
Kezhal, who has been tutored through REACH since 1999, now owns her own in-home daycare and continues to meet with her current volunteer tutor, Dale Torbert.
“We meet every Tuesday for an hour unless one of us has a family conflict. Dale will have a lesson plan set-up for me and we go over it, or I will have a spelling test, and of course always homework,” said Kezhal. “Prior to joining I knew my alphabet and the spelling of all my families’ names. Now I am around the 6th grade level of reading and writing and that is wonderful. It is such a rewarding feeling!”
Kezhal’s tutor also enjoys the sessions.
“Anyone who is interested in doing some type of volunteering that makes a difference in someone’s life would truly enjoy being a REACH tutor,” said Dale. “The added benefit of becoming friends, plus learning about other cultures is something I enjoy immensely.”
Kezhal and her husband are both actively involved in the community and she spends much of her time mentoring young immigrant women, just as the volunteers at Lutheran Social Services once mentored her. She frequently recommends REACH to others in similar situations to her.
“As an adult you want to be independent and not rely on others – there is so much more we can do when you have the knowledge to read and write,” said Kezhal. “I hope my story can help a lot of people to be better for themselves. A lot of people say ‘I do it for my family’ but I help them to see you need to do it for yourself. I did.”
In 2016, United Way donations provided 115 adult learners like Kezhal with tutoring and the text books and resources they needed to advance their reading and writing skills. Visit seuw.org to learn more about how you can get involved.