This past Monday, Bill and James left the office to tour a few grassroots community centers that are making an impact within the East Bay. They were accompanied by Kathy Ahoy, who is a Public Health Nurse of Alameda County and co-founder of Street Level Health Project. First stop: Next Step Learning Center.
Located in West Oakland, Next Step Learning Center is a hub where adults gather to work towards obtaining their GEDs, becoming literate, and transitioning to college. 65 volunteers currently tutor more than 100 adults one-on-one. Approximately half of the students are between 17 and 26, with the average age being 26. However, many of the attendees are older, often with families, and are working towards rebuilding their lives. The students attend anywhere from a few weeks to months, sometimes working on a particular subject they are weak in and sometimes in need of building the confidence necessary to take the exam.
Sister Cynthia Canning, Co-Director of the Center, took the group through the recently renovated building, which is two homes that have been converted into one comfortable haven. Sister Cynthia discussed how the environment of the building is a vital component to the way the Center works. The Center feels calm and safe in order to demonstrate to their students that they are valuable.
The Center faces many challenges, as does any grassroots community center. They do not put pressure on their students to attend diligently, recognizing that it is their responsibility as adults to take control of their education. This results in some tardiness and truancy, though Cynthia proudly mentioned that just that morning one of her students respectfully called to report he would be late. Another obstacle is the GED itself. The test, which grants people high school education status if passed, will become much more difficult in 2014. Cynthia and her team of staff and volunteers are therefore in the midst of preparing for this change.
Their dedication, drive, and willingness to overcome challenges like these in order to promote education and create college-bound individuals make the Next Step Learning Center team truly inspiring.