Adult Literacy Barrow held its 27th annual Literacy Ball on Saturday, Jan. 25, at The Georgia Club in Statham.

The fundraiser works to provide literacy education and opportunities to Barrow County residents. The organization also promotes literacy levels at all ages, supports dropout prevention efforts and promotes adult education within its communities to improve job advancement opportunities and quality of life for its citizens. The program offers English as a Second Language courses, GED and Citizenship classes.

Since the program began in 1993, 14,176 students have walked through its doors for GED, ESL and Citizenship classes and 2,319 of those students have earned their GED.

Over the last three years there have been 11 new citizens, 61 children playing in the daycare center at the Wimberly Center, 72 students riding the shuttle to class, 12,000 + free children’s books have been distributed, there have been five additional offsite classes for ESL, High School Equivalency and Citizenship and 129 students at the Barrow County Detention Center have earned their GED.

This year the organization has awarded 203 GED test scholarships to its students and 1,364 volunteer hours have been donated by business leaders, retired teachers and community members.

Adult Literacy Barrow (ALB) works in partnership with Lanier Technical College to provide specially-designed classes for its students with different needs, backgrounds and skills to help them succeed.

Both GED and English Literacy classes are free of charge. GED instruction includes beginning reading, writing and math all the way to high school completion through the General Education Development (GED) Program.

“We hope to assist individuals in obtaining the skills which will make them more successful and confident in the workplace and within society,” stated Sally Brown, executive director for Adult Literacy Barrow. “This year our goal was to raise $35,000 at our Literacy Ball."

This year’s keynote speaker was, Heather Whitley, who earned her GED in the class at the Barrow County Detention Center.

“I moved to Winder when I was 16,” she said. “I had a baby at 17, dropped out of school, and right after that I started using drugs.”

Nine years ago, when her third child was two years old, she got arrested the first time. By 2018, she had been in and out of jail, sent to boot camp in South Georgia and spent time at the Probation Detention Center near Savannah. Four years ago, she had no contact with her children and was separated from her mother and sister.

“I was addicted to drugs and homeless,” she said.

In 2018 she was arrested for the second time by the Barrow County Sheriff’s Department.

“This time it was different,” said Whitley. “I was finally defeated, and it took feeling that way to decide I needed to change for me and my kids.”

Later, while at the detention center she was accepted into the GED class where she was provided with books to study with back at her dorm, laptops to use in the classroom and all of her GED classes were paid for.

“It made me feel like I had been given a second chance,” she said.

After being released from RWRR in Statham she began and completed a one-year recovery program and became the first resident and the first graduate. She attended AA meetings daily and started going to Bethlehem Church and she eventually became the assistant director at the residence.

“Recently, I was hired by Petco. Even though I am a convicted felon, I was given a chance by Darius Bell,” said Whitley. “I’ve worked there full time for over a year, I’ve been promoted and have received two raises and was named employee of the month.”

Whitley encourages those responsible for hiring to give people like her a second chance.

“We want to work and provide for our families. We need a second chance,” said Whitley. “Going to AA meetings and attending church has made all the difference in the world for me. Going through recovery and turning my life around was hard, but a good hard, I have been sober ever since.”

In December she completed her first semester of classes at Lanier Tech and she is currently in her second semester working towards the Microsoft Business Office diploma. Her next step will be to apply to the Radiology Tech program at Lanier Tech. Whitley is now living on her own with her three children, working, going to college and attending church.

“My goal is to own my own home and see my kids graduate high school and then start college.”

Whitley told those who have loved ones going through what she has been through, to hang in there and to show support.

“Just knowing someone else believes in you even when you don’t believe in yourself makes a huge difference. My first step was getting my GED in the class that your donations provided at the detention center,” She said. “I thank Sheriff Judd Smith and Major White for offering the class, Sally Brown for her time and effort in teaching the class, and to all those who donate to Adult Literacy Barrow to help others to turn their life around. You have helped me get my smile back.”

To sign up as a volunteer or find out more information on GED or ESL classes offered at Adult Literacy Barrow, contact Sally Brown, executive director, at 770-531-3369 or via email at sbrown@laniertech.edu.

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