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Student Success Stories

Michelline Montfleury

When Michelline Montfleury left Haiti with her husband and children as a political refugee, she found opportunity and security in the United States. But her new home presented its own set of challenges. She had studied some English in school, but not enough to get by when immersed in the foreign language.

Seeking out local resources for help, Michelline started studying English as a second language at a Utah County school. The coursework was helpful, but the class didn’t always mesh with her work and family schedule. She eventually wanted to find something to better fine-tune her improved English skills—maybe even a program that could prepare her to go to college in the future. That’s when a friend recommended Project Read.

There Michelline got help from a tutor, who now teaches Michelline one-on-one at times that fit best with her schedule. Michelline says she has really honed her reading skills and appreciates help defining new words, discussing what she’s read, and being pushed to tackle harder and harder novels. She is currently enjoying The Little House on the Prairie.

Michelline appreciates that her tutor believes in her and encourages her to grow in other areas in her life, including at her job as a grocery store bagger. “I want to be a cashier,” says Michelline, “and my tutor wants me to do it, too. I am working on that.” She is working on memorizing produce codes and improving her reading comprehension, still struggling a bit with understanding everything, but always moving forward. “I like Project Read,” Michelline says. “I am better now. I cannot understand everything, but I am doing better and better every day.”

Irina Shamova

At an age some might consider too advanced for a new beginning, Irina left her home in western Siberia, without knowing a single word of English, to join her daughter’s family in Utah. Irina quickly enrolled in an English as a second language (ESL) course, and within sixth months had a full-time job in a factory assembly line.

But even as she built financial stability, Irina couldn’t confidently interact in her new culture. She felt powerless—there were medical forms to fill out, housing documents to navigate, groceries to buy, and she was relying heavily on her daughter, who was busy raising four children.

“I tried for seven years to learn it on my own, but language doesn’t work like that,” Irina says. “I can’t buy it; it’s a long, long process. Without English I cannot help myself.”

After completion of the advanced ESL class, Irina was in need of more advanced literacy skills, so her ESL teacher referred her to Project Read. One-on-one tutoring and weekly literacy group instruction fit into her full-time work schedule and offered the individual attention she’d never had in her large ESL classes. “I feel like that one and a half hour with my tutor belongs to just me,” says Irina. “It has elevated my level.”

After a year and a half at Project Read, Irina is first to admit she still has more to learn, but she is finally building her confidence in the English language and the foundation for real independence. She recently became a U.S. citizen, received a promotion at work, and is enjoying the literature of her new country. On top of this, a small but poignant personal triumph came in courageously sharing her story in English in front of over 50 business men and women at recent Corporate Alliance networking luncheon.

Project Read changes lives through literacy by empowering individuals, strengthening families, and building community. Thanks to your contributions, Project Read continues to help adults like Irina improve their reading and writing skills sufficiently to meet personal goals, function well in society, and become more productive citizens.

Anna Baasanbyamba

Anna, a single mother of two young children, was unemployed when she came to Project Read in June of 2014, and living well below the poverty level. She was also in the throes of a messy divorce and struggling to understand all the legal documents. She knew that improving her literacy skills would empower her to finalize the divorce, as well as find a job to support her young family and regain her independence.

Over the next ten months, Anna worked with an individual tutor, in addition to attending weekly literacy and writing labs, during which time her reading and language skills both improved over two grade levels. She graduated from Project Read in April of 2015.

Anna greatly enjoyed making friends at Project Read. “I love the one-on-one student-tutor interaction,” she said. She believes it is what made the most difference in improving her reading and writing skills.

Anna is an entrepreneur with big goals and high hopes for the future, and her improved literacy skills have taken her to the next level. She was able to get a job to support her young family, and recently launched her own nonprofit. Anna also plans to continue studying and hopes to be accepted at Brigham Young University.

In addition, Anna is now able to help her children with schoolwork, as well as read and respond to notes from their teachers. “My kids think I know everything!” she said. Truly, Project Read empowers individuals to meet their goals and succeed.

Nicolas Mandujano

Nicolas Mandujano, a Project Read graduate, came to the United States from Mexico in 2010. As a young child, Nicolas’s dream was to “learn English.” Though he learned some English in secondary school in Mexico, it was not enough to communicate well with and understand others when he came to the U.S. His lack of English literacy skills made it difficult for him to succeed at his job and support his family. He tried to learn English by himself, but struggled until he found Project Read.

Project Read is the only literacy program serving adults in Utah County. Through Project Read’s one-on-one tutoring services, Nicolas now feels he is “able to speak to people in every place I need.” Nicolas said his favorite thing about Project Read is that there are just two people—a tutor and a student working together toward a common goal. He believes his one-on-one tutoring experience benefited him greatly and is what made the difference in improving his English literacy skills and ability to communicate effectively with people.

Nicolas has always enjoyed reading for pleasure, specifically the Classics written by authors such as Shakespeare, Dumas, and Victor Hugo. When Nicolas arrived in the U.S., the first two places he went were the public library and the bookstore. Realizing that none of his favorite books were offered in Spanish became his greatest motivation to learn English. Nicolas now reads novels, newspapers, and recipes in English. He has learned how to fill out job applications well and is improving his employability skills as a “fine furniture maker,” which will help him build a financially stable family. He has learned to read medicine bottles, helping to create a healthy community and safety for himself and his family. He is also sharing his literacy skills with his sons, which will help them succeed in school and beyond.

Javier Rodriguez

Born in the desert of Mexico, Javier Rodriguez grew up far away from his parents and extended family, who had settled in the United States when he was a child. Choosing to stay and raise his own family in Mexico, Javier was fortunate to keep a very good job, which granted his family economic stability. Yet, Javier missed his parents and after more than 32 years of visiting them yearly, he finally decided to leave his security in Mexico and transport his family to Utah to be closer to them. He wanted his children to grow up near their whole family, to have “the opportunity to speak English very well and to live another lifestyle.”

Javier came to the country with a very limited knowledge of English, having never had to learn it for work. He wanted to improve his skills, make himself more marketable to business, and live more comfortably in his new country. Javier’s mother had been in a similar situation when she moved to the States years previous and recommended that Javier seek help at Project Read, taking advantage of their one-on-one tutoring services to better his reading and writing skills. Javier’s mother had tutored with Renata, who not only helped her to greatly improve her English, but also became a wonderful friend and trusted confidant. According to Javier, “she really loved Renata. She was not only our teacher, but our friend.” Because of this, he knew that Project Read was the place that would help empower him for the future.

Today, thanks to Project Read’s one-on-one tutoring, literacy labs, and various other tools, Javier’s English has improved significantly. Now, whether dealing with everyday necessities like reading a menu or those ever important job interviews, Javier feels like he can truly communicate better with people. Even at 76 years old, Javier stays active and has a great job at the Institute of Religion at UVU. Through hard work and constant support, Project Read has helped Javier see real results; the program has strengthened his family through multiple generations, truly building community. Anyone can succeed with the help of Project Read; you just have to be ready to start.

Vinas Khampohasithivong

Vinas first became a student in August of 2008, after being referred to Project Read by the Dixon Middle School ESL program. Originally from Laos, Vinas came to the United States because of marriage. She is the oldest of three children.

While in the program, Vinas was praised by her tutor as “an excellent student who always does her homework and always has a good attitude.” Vinas says that Project Read has helped her improve her English a lot, especially her reading and pronunciation. “I feel very proud of Project Read. Wherever I go, people compliment me on my pronunciation and how well I speak. Project Read was my first step to speaking better and reading books.”

Vinas now has two young children and works at a sautering company. She is 1.5 credits away from finishing her high school diploma. Vinas has an accounting degree from a University in Laos and hopes to attend college here in the United States when she finishes high school. Her goal is to get a degree that will allow her to help other refugees like herself.

Vinas’ improved literacy skills have given her confidence and she is now able to help her nephew with his English homework. Vinas advises current students of Project Read not to be shy or think they’re incapable of learning. “My tutor gave me courage to become better than I was before.” We’re proud of students like Vinas!

Elly Wong

Native of Hong Kong, Elly Wong came to the United States in 2007 because she wanted her children to have a better education and because she enjoys the freedoms and simplicity of American life. It didn’t take long for her to realize that in order to communicate with people and be able to read important documents and letters, she needed to improve her English reading and writing skills.

Elly was introduced to Project Read by a friend who recognized her need and desire to learn. About a year into the program, however, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to leave for treatment. Elly is a woman who does not give up easily. Despite her health challenges, Elly returned to Project Read a year and a half after the diagnosis to continue her studies. She graduated in January of 2015. Of her experience, Elly says, “Project Read has given me the opportunity to practice writing, speaking, and reading. It has helped me improve my English. In my prayers, I’m always grateful for the opportunity I have to grow, to learn, to improve my life.”

Though she completed the program, Elly continues to attend the Literacy Lab to hone her skills. “Pronunciation is hard, especially words that I don’t use often. I forget those words so fast. I’m thankful that I can still come to the lab to practice.” From here, Elly envisions herself working at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, UT, where she currently volunteers.

Rick Ferrin

Before Rick stepped through the doors of Project Read in early 2014, life was at a low. He and his wife lived in poverty in the same old apartment they had been in for ten years, barely surviving on Rick’s social security checks.

He had struggled with a mental illness most of his life, but it was not diagnosed until he was nineteen years old. Because of this difficulty, Rick made it through high school without acquiring the basic reading comprehension and writing skills he needed to land a decent job.

“I wanted to get help,” says Rick, who was determined to improve his and his family’s quality of life. ”I just didn’t know where to find it. I kind of stumbled around trying to find a place that could help me with reading.”

That is when Abiltiy 1st, an organization promoting independence for people with disabilities, sent him to Project Read, where he met his first one-on-one tutor. Rick is first to admit his progress has been slow, but every day he is getting better and understanding more. He believes having his own tutor has sped up the learning process. “It’s great to have someone to ask questions to and to explain the answers,” he says.

Pulling from his creative side and his interest in science fiction, Rick has even started writing short stories. He has written two, both about alien visitors, and has more ideas in the works. One day he hopes to write a novel.

These new writing skills, he says, have also helped him on a practical level: he can write a better resume and make more understandable notes and memos with fewer grammatical errors. Thanks to these new skills—and to his tutor for passing along information about the opportunity—Rick applied for and landed a new job, now working as a sales rep and product demonstrator at Costco. “I really enjoy my new job,” says Rick. “I get to talk to people. It really puts me out of my comfort zone.”

Quality of life for Rick has skyrocketed. He and his wife have moved into a nice new condominium and are in the process of buying it. The confidence Rick developed while better understanding the rules of English has helped him conquer a staggering stutter he has had most of his life, and gave him the strength to try new things. Recently he has joined Toastmasters International, a community speech-making group that focuses on developing communication and leadership skills among its members by providing opportunities to deliver planned and impromptu speeches. Rick has delivered twenty-one so far.

Rick’s next goal is to find an even better job. But for now, he is grateful for how far he has come. “Learning about English has helped a lot. I got a job, we got a condo we’re paying for, and life is good.”

Troy Smothers

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.”