All she wanted was to be in school, learning new things with other kids her age. Instead, troubling family circumstances forced Teresa to assume the responsibilities of a parent when she was still just a child herself.
“At 9 years old I had to be mom to four kids,” she explained through tears, recounting why the burden fell on her shoulders.
With an alcoholic mother incapable of adequately caring for a family and an abusive stepfather, there seemed to be no choice.
“I couldn’t leave my brothers and sisters alone to go to school. And if I didn’t get them to school and make sure they got their homework done and they had baths and they had food, no one else did. I had to protect them.”
“I was never given an opportunity to go to high school. And I love school. I do well in school. I love to learn,” said Teresa, who recently earned her GED from Seeds of Literacy.
The responsibilities thrust upon her at home only grew with time. The sacrifice became permanent.
“I was never given an opportunity to go to high school,” she said. “And I love school. I do well in school. I love to learn.”
Planting a seed
Years later, that love of learning led Teresa to a place where adults without diplomas get a second chance.
“Seeds of Literacy is amazing,” are words she chose to describe the United Way-funded organization that has helped thousands of Cleveland-area residents living in poverty achieve their high school equivalency.
Teresa recently passed all her subject tests at Seeds of Literacy to finish her GED after a combined seven months of tutoring and hard work.
“When I got my results after opening my email it felt amazing. It felt like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders. I could breathe,” she said.
For more than 20 years, Seeds of Literacy has provided free, one-to-one instruction that prepares adult students to advance their education, with the ultimate goal of financial stability.
And the need to advance educational opportunities in our region is great, as is financial stability — both United Way core impact areas, alongside health and basic needs.
According to Seeds of Literacy, nearly two-in-three adults residing in Cleveland are functionally illiterate, and 88 percent of the agency’s students live at or below federal poverty guidelines.
A blossoming future
For Teresa, earning a GED enabled her to meet the requirements of a local employer, where she now works in a job she loves. The accomplishment, according to her tutor, could also be viewed favorably by a judge in a legal battle to regain custody of her 9-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son. She also aspires to eventually go to college and study engineering.
Teresa told us she’s grateful and encourages others to support programs that provide opportunities for adults to complete their schooling.
“Donating to United Way of Greater Cleveland is extremely important because if people don’t put other people first, other people can’t become stable enough to do it on their own,” she said. “And that is my final goal. Becoming stable enough to do it on my own and stand on my own two feet.”
Watch and listen to Teresa’s experience and transformation at Seeds of Literacy below.
Watch Teresa’s Video