The Joe Distelheim Award for Literacy presentations were made in May. Surrounded by their families and the volunteer tutors who taught and nominated them, the four recipients were presented with a $500 check and plaque honoring them and their hard work over the past academic year.
One by one, the volunteer tutors spoke to the small audience about each winner. Each story, a little different, but a recurring theme was their determination both inside and outside the classroom and their willingness to help others. Each student had excellent attendance records while at the same time fulfilling job and family responsibilities and otherwise leaping over life’s hurdles. Fluency in English shrinks those hurdles and enables community participation. All four students exemplify what it means to work hard toward goals and ultimately thrive at home, in the workplace, and in their community.
The evening was not just about the continued impact Joe Distelheim will have on our community but about the impact these students will now be able to have with a new skill in their pocket, the English language. Mr. Distelheim was well respected and loved by many in the Lowcountry and beyond. These are just four of the lives that are forever changed through the gift of literacy.
Andrea began the year quiet and reserved but has blossomed into a confident, eager student. She has set herself apart by showing great determination and dedication to learning the English language.
Andrea attends class regularly and arrives prepared and anxious to learn. Even following two dental appointments that left her feeling miserable, she attended class and participated fully. She is consistently punctual and engages in all activities.
Gabriela immigrated from Honduras to the United States in 2021 with her son, who at the time was four years old. She wanted a better future for her child and therefore, she left her family behind in search of the American Dream. She currently lives in Hardeeville and works part-time in housekeeping in Sun City.
Gabriela initiated her ESL journey with Bluffton Self Help in June of 2022. During one group conversation, the class was asked why they wanted to learn English. Gabriela’s response was touching. She wanted to learn English because her son had experienced some health issues. She was required to interact with the healthcare providers, but she found it very difficult to explain her child’s condition and his symptoms to the professionals. She said that she felt so impotent in this situation. Therefore, she was determined to make sure that she learned English to help her son as much as she could.
My team tutor Mary Bernard and I nominated Federico Mendez for the Joe Distelheim Award because he has been an excellent and enthusiastic student all year. Federico is always the first to arrive in class and engages in conversation to practice his English. We can count on him to participate in class activities and finish his assignments. It is obvious that he wants to learn because he asks questions when he does not understand something and makes sure that we check his work. The other students benefit from these questions and from his motivation to learn how to speak, read and write English.
In February, when nominations were requested for this year’s Joe Distelheim Award, I immediately thought of recommending Juan Carlos Mujica. I met Juan Carlos and our other Level 2 students in August 2022. This class has been particularly hard-working and overall excellent class all year long.
Juan Carlos stands out in our class. He is looked on as a leader in our class by his fellow students. He is always on time or early for class and puts in a full effort during each class. He is not afraid to ask questions about the structure and meaning of words. He continues to be inquisitive until he understands each word or phrase fully.