By Danielle Ayan

Special to the Citizen

While I work as a full-time professional at Georgia Tech and a part-time photographer, I have very little excess cash to donate. And as the parent of two young boys, I also have very little extra time in my life. But I want and need to give back to my community in meaningful ways that will positively impact the recipients while simultaneously imparting altruistic values on my children.

Molded through faith and the actions of my parents, I believe that to whom much is given, much is required. The hard part is deciding how to give back. Time is precious, and money is spent before it hits the palm of the hand.

But, I have learned that volunteering an hour or two of my time, one night a week, is very doable and has made all the difference in the world for Walter Brown, my Newton READS adult literacy student.

Walter and I started working together a year ago when he came to Newton READS at approximately a fourth grade reading level. What I came to understand was that, although a person can pronounce most words in a sentence, he or she may not actually be absorbing the meaning of the sentence. How do you pronounce a word that you've never seen before? How do you associate meaning with words you've never used? How do you break a word into its parts, or phonemes, when you don't even know how to pronounce it? When do you make a vowel sound long versus short or hard versus soft?

As a result of confronting these reading challenges, Walter and I have focused a lot on comprehension. Newton READS Director Janet Hodges believes in teaching people to read by presenting them with information that is interesting to them. Because of this, Walter and I have worked through the provided adult literacy curriculum, but we have also been able to do so much more together. For example, Walter and I read from the newspaper and we read from the Bible. We also read and write outlines for grocery shopping and daily activities.

Walter is an incredible student for a literacy tutor to teach. His pride is not bigger than his drive to expand his education. He has grown tremendously in the past year, as is evidenced by his obtaining an associate diploma in ministry and co-authoring this article.

I could bump into someone just like Walter in public and never know his name, his history, his challenges, his enthusiasm, his drive to be better or his commitment. Yet, through Newton READS, my path and Walter's path have crossed.

Socioeconomic and cultural differences aside, we both have similar positive attitudes and have worked hard together toward the same goal. We have impacted each other's lives in immeasurable ways.

It is my hope to inspire people in our community with skills and knowledge to offer their talents to others who can benefit. We all have something to give and there are programs such as Newton READS that provide a framework for connecting students and mentors.