Tomorrow, Lannette and I start volunteering for Colorado Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. This is something I have wanted to do since the early nineties, when I managed a pizza store.
One of the employees who worked for me was a teenager who had dropped out of school because he had been told he had a learning disability. He had been placed in remedial classes for most of his schooling, but something didn’t add up. He was clearly an intelligent kid; he spoke well, he never had to be shown more than once how to do a job right, and he took pride in his work. The only thing I noticed was that he didn’t do very well taking phone orders or reading the tickets to make pizzas.
One night, while he was scheduled to close with me, we got to talking and I asked him about the tickets. Embarrassed, he told me that he couldn’t read very well. He explained about the remedial class placings and how boring school was for him because he wasn’t challenged, and how he had been diagnosed with dyslexia when he was fourteen. Fourteen is very late for that diagnosis, and unfortunately, his school didn’t do much to correct the improper class placements he had been given before. To him, the school didn’t care, and he wanted to be a mechanic anyway, so he dropped out.
I began working with him on his reading in the evenings after hours. I helped him learn what all the abbreviations on the order tickets meant, and started scheduling him to work the positions that required more reading. At first, he was frustrated, but he learned pretty quickly when he had someone who was willing to take the time to help him. He learned not to get angry when he couldn’t figure out a ticket, but to just ask someone to clarify the ticket for him.
One night, he surprised me. After everyone else had left, he pulled a book out of his backpack and showed it to me. It was a children’s book, about third or fourth grade level, and he beamed as he handed it to me. It had a Maricopa County library sticker on it; he had gone to the library, gotten a card, and checked out the book on his own. From that point on, he started showing me the books that he was reading after all the other employees had left.
Before long, he was offered a job with a landscape company. The hours were better than what I could give him, and the pay was significantly better than the pizza franchise would allow me to offer. It was a no-brainer for him to take it. Before he left, he thanked me for understanding his reading problem, and for encouraging him to keep trying. He told me he wanted to get his G.E.D.
I still don’t know exactly how he got past the dyslexia. Maybe it was sheer persistence, or maybe a big part of his problem was stigma placed on him by others. All I know is that a little support and understanding was all it took for him to want to try, and I remember how good it felt to hear him say he wanted to try for the equivalency certificate.
When Lannette mentioned RFB&D in passing one morning, saying that she wanted to volunteer there, I checked it out. I wrote to them the same day, and told them that I was interested in volunteering, then, after confirming with Lannette, signed us both up for an orientation meeting. That was two weeks ago, and tomorrow night we start our first session as volunteers.
I’m looking forward to it.