At the age of eighteen, Troy Smothers’s greatest academic achievement was reading Green Eggs and Ham. After fighting through illiteracy as an adult, today he’s a successful Utah entrepreneur, thanks, he says, to will power—and the sacrifices of others.

Falling further and further behind in spelling, reading, and writing, as a ninth-grader Troy dropped out of his South Carolina high school to do something he liked and could actually do well: entrepreneurship. He started a landscaping business, but as a “fifteen-year-old, high-school dropout, illiterate guy,” his growth and success was stunted.

After serving a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Troy moved to Utah to “see what it had to offer.” There he got one of the few jobs his education and literacy skills qualified him for: construction. He was working minimum wage, and even harder for Troy, he felt limited and unable to fully participate in his community. “I was very much a member of society, but just not contributing,” he remembers. “I stayed away from things that required reading or writing.”

Until, that is, the summer of 1997, when he discovered Project Read. He walked into the offices with more than a little apprehension—with his meager salary, Troy thought there was no way he could afford one-on-one tutoring. “And then later I found it that it was a volunteer program, that I would be getting tutoring, one-on-one instruction, and that it was free.”

Free, he says, thanks to the sacrifice and dedication of the volunteers, like the ones who helped him overcome his first challenge at Project Read—filling out the application form. Twice weekly over the next two years, Troy met with his tutor “Miss Carol,” a retired woman. “She was committed to assisting me in taking steps in learning to read,” Troy says. “Her dedication and skill got me to the level where I was able to increase my ability not only to perform at a high level, but also to make a high contribution to society.”

With his newfound literacy skills, Troy was able to find work circling back to his longtime dream of becoming an entrepreneur. He earned his contractor’s, pilot’s, and insurance licenses, currently volunteers with search and rescue, and owns several flourishing businesses in Pleasant Grove, Utah.

Literacy opened the door for Troy to contribute meaningfully to the world around him. Troy pays it forward as one of Project Read’s biggest donors. He never credits any of his success to academic acumen: “I’ve learned that ‘I will’ is more important than IQ,” he says. “I have a vocation that I want. Project read has blessed my life with literacy.”