The woman who is striving to help millions of American adults who are functionally illiterate
Meet Deidra Mayberry, an entrepreneur woman who is making efforts to upgrade the literacy level of millions of American adults. Deidra struggled with reading and writing and felt embarrassed and ashamed when she was a child. When she was a child, Deidra was constantly moving to different places due to her parents’ military career.
In that situation, she was forced to move from one school to another frequently. For Deidra, always being the new kid at school wasn’t easy at all. She eventually adapted to the situation and gained experience in hiding her functional illiteracy in childhood.
National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) estimates that 21 percent of adults in the US (about 43 million) fall into the illiterate/functionally illiterate category. The term functional illiterate means that a person has basic skills to read and write but they’re not skilled or experienced enough to manage daily living or employment tasks.
When Deidra finally graduated from high school, she started searching for support to improve her reading and writing skills. “I was turned away because I was over the age of 17, and other private options like one-on-one tutoring were financially out of reach for me,” she said.
When she was in college, it was the first time she understood what functional illiteracy mean. She graduated from college by taking additional summer semesters and she spent long nights studying and working hard. She struggled for many years. Despite everything she had faced, Deidra had a strong determination that one day she will fix it. And finally, her efforts came to fruition.
She started a nonprofit organization to help other adults who are functionally illiterate. Now she’s trying to help the 21 percent of American adults (about 43,000,000) who are facing their challenges with literacy.
She recalled, “I was so proud that I actually made it through college and graduated,” Deidra says. “But once I started to apply for jobs, reality kicked in fast. I never truly fixed my literacy problems. Instead, I found ways to work around them in order to spare myself the embarrassment and shame that I already felt daily.”
“I felt unworthy because I knew I had this big secret — and thought if people knew, they would see that I had no value,” she said.
Deidra continued to hide her illiteracy for years before she started her non-profit organization. Then she had enlightenment. “I was working so hard to hide my literacy struggle in order to make it work, but I asked myself, ‘What if I worked just as hard to fix it?” she said about the moment she got enlightenment.
She then got help from a friend, who began teaching her. “The hope, courage, and confidence she helped me find was the beautiful moment of empowerment that reminded me to create and provide a resource for people just like me.” On March 12, 2020, Deidra decided to start a nonprofit organization to help functionally illiterate adults. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic smashed down the businesses and people got stuck in quarantine and lockdown, she didn’t let it stop her.
Later, she launched the Reading to New Heights. This is an organization that teaches adults the fundamentals of reading. This organization then started providing virtual tutoring sessions with certified educators. What makes this organization special is that these services and tutoring sessions are provided at no cost. So, anyone who needs them has access.
“The curriculum that our educators teach from allows our adult learners to revisit the fundamentals of reading and comprehension as if they are learning them for the first time. Basic reading foundations such as phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, spelling, vocabulary, and comprehension are exactly what adults struggling with illiteracy need in order to build competent literacy skills and fill the gaps that illiteracy causes in education,” Deidra said.
“Illiteracy and functional illiteracy can be directly linked to higher prison populations, lower household incomes, and inaccessibility to quality healthcare. By committing to developing the fundamentals of reading, our adult learners overcome both the psychological and environmental limitations of illiteracy,” she added.
After they launched the organization, the nonprofit has been featured on Fox 4 News, which gave them a strong and wide exposure. And that’s what they needed to grow from three adult program participants to 20. They have also been accepted into the United Way, an incubator program that provides support to growing businesses.
Then, Deidra became one of the Tory Burch’s Empowered Women this year. It’s like all her efforts have come to fruition. “It’s kind of ironic, the very thing I was ashamed of and thought I had to hide for years was the one thing that, once I shared it, not only freed me but gave me hope and provided a way to help others,” Deidra said. “I love that my story has been about helping others find the courage to share and take the first step to start their literacy journey.”
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