Katina Tandler has the stride of a business executive and a voice that fills the room.
"Sorry I'm late," she said, marching through Toledo's South Branch Library.
Her six children, ages 10, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 18, traipsed behind her.
While the children milled around a glossy display of books, Ms. Tandler settled into a chair and flipped open her workbook with a flourish. And then, slowly, methodically, she started to read aloud.
"When you have an E at the end, the I is long," said Susie Telljohann, a tutor in Toledo's Read for Literacy program.
Ms. Tandler is 35 years old, but reads at the level of her youngest child. For two years, she has worked tirelessly alongside her tutor to advance her reading skills, and will be honored tonight as one of Read for Literacy's six adult learners of the year.
Read for Literacy, founded in 1986, is an adult literacy program that enrolls 1,300 participants a year from the Lucas County area. A staff of 1,200 volunteers provides one-on-one tutoring for students. The program's annual budget of $220,000 is funded by grants from foundations and private individuals.
"These adults can't help their children with schoolwork and are having a hard time getting jobs and generally navigating life," said Jim Funk, the director of the program. "Our students come to us because life is hard, and the incentive for them is to try to improve their lives."
The Adult Learners of the Year award ceremony, entitled "Sweet Success" because of the baked goods that will be served to guests, will be at 6:30 p.m. tonight at the Main Library.
This year's winners include Ms. Tandler, Jose Hernandez, Franklin Peacock, and Amanda Wymer in the Basic Learner category, John Boose in the Intermediate Learner category, and Ximena Miranda for English as a Second Language.
Tutors nominate students for the award based on diligence, attendance, and progress in light of their circumstances. Five tutor trainers, who are responsible for sessions that prepare tutors for the program, also will be honored.
Ms. Wymer, 21, dropped out of high school in ninth grade.
"I got picked on and didn't get the attention I needed," she said. Throughout junior high, she worked an assortment of odd jobs. "Filling out slips and stuff, I couldn't do it. I felt dumb asking people for help," she said.
Now, she works as a bartender and has plans to get a high school equivalency diploma. She has opened a bank account and can write checks and place orders at work.
"These things sound small, but they're huge when you're an adult and you haven't done them," said Pat Wade, Ms. Wymer's tutor. To spice up reading lessons, Ms. Wade brings in newspaper clippings and excerpts from books like Chicken Soup for the Soul.
"I have plans for my life and I have to get over this part to get to the rest of my life," Ms. Wymer said.
When Mr. Boose was severely injured in a gas tank explosion in 1987, he lost most of his memory. He forgot people's names and had to relearn many basic skills. At first, he would pick up a newspaper, understand one or two words, and wonder what the rest of it said. Now, he understands most of it.
"John is really an inspiration to me," Susan Turner, Mr Boose's tutor, said. "This program is a blessing to the community."
About 20 percent of adults in the city of Toledo read at or below an eighth grade level, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Ms. Tandler had known about Read for Literacy for a long time before a friend finally talked her into going.
"I didn't want to embarrass myself," she said. "I was just doing what I needed to do to get through my life."
Two years later, Ms. Tandler can write little notes to family. She reads with her two youngest daughters, and understands the scrawled messages her older children leave on the kitchen table before they go out. All six of her children will be at the ceremony tonight.
"I used to put a brick wall up, lock it all out," she said. "I never thought I'd make it this far."
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