One of the Greatest Gifts of All

Dec 3, 2019

On this "Giving Tuesday," this is a story about something that’s up there with the greatest gifts of all.  It never wears out, or gets put in the back of closet and will always be there when you need it.

John Hess and Freddie Price celebrate a literary achievement.

It’s a gift most people take for granted, but somewhere along the line, somebody taught you how to read, handing you a key to the wider world. But more than 40 million adults in this country don’t have that key. Freddie Price used to be one of them. “You know, a lot of people have different kinds of struggles and everybody has a different, way of handling it. A lot of people keep it inside. And that's what I did.”

Price is a supply clerk for the town of Christiansburg, an assistant to the manager, and in order to advance in his career, he had to pass a difficult written test given by an agency called the Virginia Institute of Procurement, one he’d taken and failed 4 times before.  He was getting ready to take it a fifth time, but if he failed this one, he could lose his job, a job he is good at. Price has worked for the town for 15 years and not many people knew he had what they call, ‘low literacy levels.’

“I kept it inside and had this macho attitude that I could do it and you just gotta let it down sometimes. And trust that people will help you who care about you.”

So, Price decided to ask for help. “It was a difficult decision because pride takes over,” says Price. “But I had something in me. I knew I could do it and it just took this organization, and you know, it just wasn't one person. It was everybody in it.”

That organization is the Literacy Volunteers of the New River Valley. It gets no government funding and depends entirely on donations. Not every community or state in this country offers this kind of help for free. U.S. government funding helps just 2-million low literacy people a year, according to the group, World Education Inc. Well, Prince was one of the other 40-some odd million, and it was the LVNRV  that got him someone who could help.

“We did a flash cards and stuff like that and I did everything he told me to do, and took it seriously.” He is John Hess, former department head and professor emeritus in Biochemistry at Virginia Tech. They had just 3 weeks to work together to prepare for the test.

“And it's this sort of synergy that happens between learner and teacher that makes this experience very unique and worthwhile,” says Hess. As a tutor who enjoys this, you see an individual with that fire in the belly, that they want to change and that, no matter what your age, if you have this desire, you can really overcome amazing things.” 

And here’s what happened on test day, after four attempts and now a long drive to Richmond for the fifth time; “The night before (previous) tests I would normally cram. Instead, I just went over my stuff, like (John) told me, for about 30 minutes, went for a walk, had some dinner. Then the next morning I usually opened the books, but this time, I didn't even open the book. I said, ‘I know this.’”  A few hours later, he got a text from the governor’s office confirming that. Price passed the test. “And it took someone else to see my qualities and what I had in me and helped me bring them out,” he says with a voice deep with gratitude.

 The Literacy Volunteers of the New River Valley are looking for more people like Freddie Price to take the leap, and like John Hess, to help others over the hurdle.

“I don't think there is ever enough volunteers, probably for any organization,” says Hess. “Teaching people to read is a “great experience for a person who enjoys being with people who are open to discovery, whether it's a perspective about life or whether it's some discreet skill that suddenly appears.” He wants others who are interested in tutoring people in reading to know “that it's something worth getting involved with because it's a chance to work with individuals who have a vibrant curiosity. They want to learn and and because the tutoring experience is often one-on-one, you discover things about yourself as well, as the individual ,that enriches both lives

On this day called “Giving Tuesday” what better gift could there be?

Click here for a link to LVNRV's Giving Tuesday site

And here are links to blogs by Freddie Price and by John Hess.