As an adult Henry learned to read and it changed his life.
Literacy Success Story: learning to read and write changed Henry's life.
Graduating high school and going to university used to seem impossible to Henry (not his real name), who couldn’t read or write. But now he says, “you can really do what you put your mind to. All you have to do is reach out and grab your dreams. They’re there.” It’s been a long road, but with help from Literacy Central Vancouver Island, a United Way funded agency, Henry is now a proud high school graduate and college candidate.
After suffering a head injury as a child which caused amnesia, Henry never re-learned to read or write after his accident. He was one of nine children in a single-parent household and relied on the support and mentorship of his older brother as he learned everyday tasks all over again. When Henry was an adolescent, his brother died of an overdose in his arms. As you can imagine this was another life-changing moment for him. “That set me off, I could not open up to anyone for a long time.”
Henry used to be embarrassed that he couldn’t read or write. “I thought it was a weakness,” he said. Any stumbles he made over literacy would make him emotional which would lead to confrontation. “Before, I would rather fight than let them read my writing. I was never open about any of it and if I thought someone knew, I would fight them.”
Henry became stuck in a cycle of fighting, getting picked on, getting into criminal activity, using substances, and ultimately jail time. It was in prison that Henry finally started receiving help to complete high school. “Literacy Central Vancouver Island found me a tutor I could build a relationship with like the one I had with my older brother all those years ago.”
While at the Nanaimo Corrections Centre, Henry was paired with a volunteer tutor, the first person, he says, who pinpointed his literacy issues and made connections to the things he was working on. Henry has now graduated grade 12, participated in three university outreach courses, and aced his first college entrance exam. He is also a prolific poet and storyteller as writing has proudly changed from his biggest fear to his favourite pastime.
After serving his sentence, Henry was released from prison earlier this year. When he left the institution he knew, “things will be different this time”. After 20 years of fighting and feeling embarrassed about his literacy problems, Henry says he has been, “liberated from the fear, like being let out of the cage [he’s] been inside of for years."
When asked if he had a message for the public, Henry said, “thank you for your donations. This program has changed my life. Without it I would still be stuck in my criminal cycle, scared of reading and opening up.”
- Based on an interview with Henry in early 2020 and learner’s article published in ‘In Our Own Words’, LCVI 2017.
Literacy Central Vancouver Island is a United Way funded agency offering free tutoring in reading, writing, math and computers. Their dedicated and experienced volunteers serve adults, youth and families in the Nanaimo area, from Lantzville to Ladysmith and Gabriola Island. Learn more about their important work on their website.