Apodaca: When words take on real meaning

April 19, 2011|By Patrice Apodaca

For most of her life, Judi Treble had trouble reading, the byproduct of a difficult childhood.

By the time she graduated from high school, she had attended 13 schools and had stalled at a sixth-grade reading level.

Treble managed to earn an associate's degree in early childhood education, and has worked in the field for most of her professional career.


Now 58, the Newport Beach resident acknowledges that her reading deficiency held her back.

"I didn't have the confidence to go on," she said. "I didn't have the basic background. I take care of children, but I think, what if? What if I'd had a good basic education? I could have gone on to be a doctor."

But Treble wasn't satisfied with letting all those what-ifs go unanswered. About five years ago, she spotted an ad in the Daily Pilot for the Newport Beach Public Library's Literacy Program, and she signed up.

Treble began taking classes and meeting regularly with a volunteer tutor. Her reading level has improved so dramatically that she now writes short stories.

"I feel a lot freer than I did before," she said. "I'm starting to set goals for myself."

It's been 25 years since Irvine-based author Carol Hazelwood jumpstarted the fledgling Literacy Program, and since then it has quietly forged ahead with its mission of improving lives.

That the program has survived and even flourished in an inhospitable financial climate is testament to the dedication of the many selfless supporters who stubbornly refuse to let this important service suffer.

One of them is my friend and neighbor Nancy Englebrecht, a Newport Beach real estate agent who has donated her time and energy to the literacy project for several years.

Nancy urged me to speak to Cherall Weiss, who gave up a lucrative career in commercial finance five years ago to run the literacy program. As the library's literacy coordinator, she is one of two part-time staffers devoted to the program. An army of more than 100 volunteers does the rest of the work, including one-on-one tutoring, classroom instruction and group activities.

Despite the pay cut, Weiss said, she has no regrets about her career change.

"This is so much more fulfilling," she said.

Most of us take our ability to read for granted, but Weiss finds there's no shortage of potential students even in our relatively affluent area.

An estimated 350,000 to 400,000 people have unacceptable levels of literacy in Orange County, she said.

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