JOE DISTELHEIM AWARD RECOGNIZES LITERACY STUDENTS
By Amy Coyne Bredeson
Throughout his 38 years in journalism, Joe Distelheim was a mentor to many. After retiring from his position as editor of The Huntsville (Ala.) Times, he and his wife, Dottie, moved to Hilton Head Island, where Joe continued to impact lives.
Distelheim spent more than 10 years volunteering at The Literacy Center, where he taught
English as a Second Language classes and tutored students.
In December 2020, Joe died at the age of 78, but his impact will live on through a charitable
fund of the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry. The fund provides money for an award given in Joe’s honor.
After his death, Joe’s former colleagues established the Joe Distelheim Award for Literacy, which is given annually to four literacy students of Bluffton Self Help, which The Literacy Center
merged with in 2021.
The first four recipients of the Joe Distelheim Award for Literacy were honored at an awards dinner April 27 at the Hilton Head campus of the University of South Carolina Beaufort. Each received a plaque and $500.
Volunteer tutors at Bluffton Self Help nominated their students for the award based on their measurable gains in English-language fluency, their classroom interaction and their involvement in the community.
Zohra Tebbakh spoke Arabic and French when she moved to the United States from Morocco. Now she is well on her way to speaking English fluently.
Tebbakh has participated in two semesters of ESL classes at Bluffton Self Help’s Hardeeville location. In their nomination of Tebbakh for the Joe Distelheim Award, tutors Jackie DeCecco and Kathy Stutesman wrote that she is a dedicated, hardworking student. In fact, Tebbakh is so dedicated to learning English that she rode a bicycle to class for months, sometimes in the rain. Her husband recently bought her a motor scooter to make the commute a little easier. Her tutors have offered to drive her home when the weather is bad, but she insists she is fine with her raincoat.
Tebbakh works as a cashier at Piggly Wiggly in Hardeeville. She plans to continue the ESL
classes, earn a GED, become a United States citizen and find a career she loves. “She has the drive, passion and skills to accomplish all these goals,” her tutors wrote in their nomination. “She is always friendly, on time, and willing to help in any way she is able.”
When learning a new language, idioms and slang can cause a great deal of confusion. Tebbakh’s tutors said she will sometimes bring up these phrases in class. For example, a Piggly Wiggly customer once used the phrase, “even Steven,” so she asked what it meant. The class discussed the meaning of the phrase, and all the students learned something new.
Now when a student says, “even Steven” or “easy peasy,” the whole room breaks out in laughter, making ESL class fun for all.
Maria Medina was a nurse in Puerto Rico before moving to Bluffton three years ago. She started taking ESL classes at Bluffton Self Help so she could work locally as a nurse and to be able to help her children with school.
Medina’s tutors, Mary Lee Stephens and Jeff Fahrner, said she has had to work hard to overcome challenges at home. Medina and her husband have three children, two with special needs. They also have her two adult brothers living with them. In their nomination for Medina, her tutors wrote that despite managing a busy household, she has always finished her homework and come to class prepared. “She was a model student,” Stephens and Fahrner wrote in their nomination, “showing up on time for almost every class, always very well prepared and willing to help others who looked to her if they needed help understanding a word or sentence. She is quietly determined, has a very
positive attitude and works extremely hard.”
Stephens and Fahrner were particularly proud of Medina when she told them about a meeting she had with her twin sons’ therapists. She was able to understand everything they said, even difficult medical terms and jargon related to their condition. “With her steadfast determination, great work ethic, and quiet, low key but friendly presence, we are sure Maria will continue to improve her English and find fulfilling work here in the United States,” her tutors wrote.
Kathia Salinas moved to Bluffton in 2019 from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where she worked in dentistry. Now she cleans houses for a living. In order to find a local job in dentistry, Salinas knows she needs to learn English. She also wants to learn the language because her boyfriend and his family speak English.
Salinas started taking ESL classes at Bluffton Self Help last year. Her literacy tutor, Marlene Cathcart, said Salinas has always been eager to learn and to help other students. “She also encouraged the other students to try and use English more often,” Cathcart said. “At first, the other students were reluctant to participate, but Kathia wasn’t. Through her, the other students began to open up and join in.” Cathcart was also impressed with Salinas’ dedication to the people of her home country. During the holidays, Salinas collected toys for an orphanage in Honduras.
Salinas hopes to find a job as a dental hygienist, dental assistant or receptionist in a dental
In February 2020, Gerardo Rivera moved to the U.S. from the Venezuelan town of Araure. He
now lives in Bluffton with his wife, Carolina, and their three children. Before moving to the U.S., Rivera owned a printing company. He now works as an electrician for Lighthouse Electric Service.
In 2021, Rivera took a beginner-level ESL class with tutor Carolyn McClurg at Bluffton Self Help. McClurg said he never missed class, even when he worked late, and he often drove to class from Beaufort. “Gerardo was always prepared,” McClurg wrote in her nomination of him. “He completed the exercises in the workbook on his own time and any other assignment given to the class. He was always willing to help his fellow classmates, providing explanations of what we were working on, especially when another classmate was struggling to understand the English words or concepts.”
McClurg said Rivera practices speaking English any chance he gets, using Duo Lingo to practice before work in the morning. “It was my pleasure to have Gerardo in class and to witness his continual progress,” McClurg wrote. “I am confident that he will master the English language and is definitely ready to go to the next level.”
For more information on ESL classes at Bluffton Self Help, visit www.blufftonselfhelp.org or call 843-757-8000.
The Hilton Head Island Celebrity Golf Tournament has finally arrived. Today through Sunday, the celebrity tournament will host thousands of spectators from the community and beyond. The Hilton Head Island…