Flyer by Alefiyah Vahanvaty
Every new idea starts with genuine curiosity. For me, it was about poverty. Why or how do people get stuck in the cycle of poverty?
I never planned to start a nonprofit organization at 16 years old; rather, gradual experiences in my life led to me to start “Success For Life.” This is Monroe County’s first program to ever provide free customized GED tutoring, career guidance, and resources on how to further one’s education.
As I became increasingly aware of the issue of poverty, I began to develop a fascination towards the barriers people face from rising out of poverty. This fascination grew as I delved into documentaries, magazine articles, books, and much more.
One day, I remember my mom calling me downstairs to watch a documentary on Netflix called “Poverty Inc.” That documentary opened my eyes to a new perspective on how to effectively combat poverty: through job training, supporting business in developing countries, and education.
I began many hours of online research, read various magazine articles, and contacted various directors of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to learn more about poverty in our community. I wasn’t planning to start a nonprofit in my community, but a genuine drive told me I couldn’t just ignore this problem.
After many months of research, the answer was clear: education is one of the most effective methods of combating poverty. What surprised me, even more, is a statistic I found in a “Community Needs Assessments” from United Way Monroe County. The median earnings of an individual who doesn’t have a high school diploma are approximately $20,000 per a year. However, as the level of education increased, so did the median earnings — drastically. Individuals that obtain a high school diploma earn approximately $30,000 per a year, and individuals that obtain a bachelor’s degree earn approximately $46,000 per a year — which is more than a 50% increase in earnings from having no high school diploma at all.
An idea began to click in my head: why not develop an online GED (General Education Diploma, equivalent to a high school diploma) program that provides resources and guidance on how to further one’s education? Having access to online education would allow more flexibility for a mom working two jobs, and for people that don’t have available access to transportation. Genius idea, right? Not really.
As I began to meet with executive leaders of Northampton Community College and continued researching the idea of online education, I found a major flaw in my idea: online education isn’t effective for people trying to go back to school and further their education. An individual who is trying to obtain GED benefits much more from customized tutoring and personalized attention.
“My experience with individuals who are seeking the GED is that they fare better in a classroom-based setting, and working with an individual face to face, versus pursuing the GED online,” said Dr. Matthew Connell, dean of Monroe Northampton Community College.
I’ve always wanted to make a meaningful impact in the world, so I embraced his feedback as an opportunity to change direction in order to better my chances of being successful. Through more meetings with executive directors of Northampton Community College, I learned what was lacking in their GED program. I contacted executive directors of NGOs, attended numerous meetings with local nonprofits, researched more, and rewrote my 12-page plan so that it would provide a 1-on-1, customized, GED program. From there, Success For Life was founded.
Success For Life gives students and tutors the opportunity to set up times for tutoring at the Eastern Monroe Public Library. Tutors are given a list of resources and a GED textbook to help their students pass the GED exam. In order to qualify as a tutor, one must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Students in the Success For Life program don’t have a high school diploma, so Success For Life prepares them to pass the GED exam (which is equivalent to obtaining a high school diploma).
Interested tutors and students come to orientations held at the Eastern Monroe Public Library. Tutors hand in resumes or any certificate that verifies they have a bachelor’s degree, or the qualifications to teach a certain section of the GED exam.
Students, on the other hand, come to a student orientation and take the TABE exam (Test of Adult Basic Education). This test allows the Success For Life staff to see what areas students are weak in (primarily in Math and Reading/Writing). Based on the student’s results on the TABE exam, the Success For Life staff matches them up with the appropriate tutor. For example, if we have a student who is very weak in math on the TABE exam, we pair that student up with a tutor who has expressed an interested in teaching math.
Now, we have 48 active participants (including tutors and students) and average ratings of 4.95 stars out of 5 stars, according to the tutors and students.
“The library is very pleased with the community response to the program,” said Ms. Sue Lyons, Director of the Eastern Monroe Public Library. “We are happy to have many qualified, volunteer tutors who are assisting their neighbors in obtaining their high school equivalency credentials.”
I remember a quiet, humble woman who first approached my program. She was an immigrant from Ecuador, who traveled all the way to America for better opportunities. She plans to take the GED exam in June and further her education at Northampton Community College, in order to obtain a career in the medical field.
“Success for life a great program,” said Zoila Fazio, a student in the Success For Life program. “I am so grateful for the opportunity; Success For Life gives me the flexibility to attend classes on days and times that I’m available. This allows me to study and prepare for the GED exam. I can finally accomplish my dreams; I hope to become a nurse someday.”
I hope to help many hard-working, determined, bright individuals like Zoila pass the GED exam, get a career, and achieve their dreams.
If you are interested in enrolling as a tutor or a student in the Success For Life program, please contact me at [email protected] to be updated with tutor and student orientations we’ll be hosting in the future.