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Adult education achievements recognized at county-wide literacy awards!

Literacy Network of Stanislaus County Hosts 23rd Annual Awards Celebration

Join us for the award ceremony!

Friday, March 4, 2022 at 1:00 pm

The 23rd annual Celebrate Literacy Awards Celebration will be held via Zoom on Friday, March 4, at 1:00 p.m.   Four adult students will receive awards for outstanding achievement in one of three categories: English as a Second Language (ESL), Literacy, and High School Diploma or Equivalency.  Other awards to be presented are the Betty Mulnix Service Award, the Jean and Clyde Dunlap Award for outstanding contributions to literacy, and a $500 scholarship to a current student in adult education.

The 2022 Winners

English as a Second Language (ESL) Award

Arazo Ekhlas, LearningQuest

Literacy Award

Laura Soto, LearningQuest

High School Equivalency (HSE) Award

Nicolas Garibay, LearningQuest

Adilene Zamora Ortiz, LearningQuest

Betty Mulnix Service Award

John Arnold, LearningQuest

The Jean and Clyde Dunlop Award

Catherine Ferrell, LearningQuest

Scholarship Award

Enjila Farokh Ahmadi, Turlock Adult School

LearningQuest – Stanislaus Literacy Centers, a regional nonprofit, had students win multiple awards this year.  Karen Williams, LearningQuest’s Executive Director, said, “I am so proud of both our students and our staff.  The staff kept them encouraged with phone calls, tutoring, and help with roadblocks and barriers.  Our students are adults with complicated lives and have to overcome huge challenges to achieve these goals and excel in their education.  Both have contributed to this huge accomplishment of winning every award.”


Arazo Ekhlas – English as a Second (ESL) Language Award

Arazo, her husband, and two children are refugees from Kabul, Afghanistan.  In Kabul, Arazo studied law at a private university to learn about her community and empower Afghan women by teaching them about women’s rights.  She also volunteered in a women’s rights community where she taught Afghan women to write, improve their knowledge, and manage their time between housewife duties and studying.  In the U.S., Arazo found that the English she learned in Afghanistan was not adequate and enrolled in LearningQuest’s ESL program.  Her listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills improved so she can now confidently go to stores by herself, make appointments, read a magazine or book, and write an essay.  Arazo is determined to get an HSE diploma next, start an online computer programming class, and study for her U.S. citizenship.

Laura Soto

Laura Soto – Literacy Award

Laura was born and raised in Mexico City, but fearing for her family’s safety, they moved to Modesto in 2004.  Laura quickly realized that not knowing any English brought many new challenges.  She worked on a warehouse assembly line where she could not communicate with her colleagues.  She learned some English when her children began school, but she wanted to learn for herself.  Laura was able to take Spanish HSE classes and earned her diploma.  In 2018, she entered the LearningQuest adult literacy tutoring program where her reading and writing improved from second grade to eighth grade level.  Laura continues tutoring, she says, “It is very important to learn English and to grow and move forward in any area and achieve your goals.”

Nicolas Earns His Diploma!

Nicolas Garibay – High School Equivalency (HSE) Award

Nicolas dropped out of high school to become his father’s primary caregiver.  After his father’s passing in 2007, Nicolas went through some hard times.  By 2021, Nicolas had been incarcerated three times and released from prison after a six-year incarceration.  He decided to apply for a Workforce Development grant to enroll at the Cal-Trade Welding School, but he needed a diploma.  Nicolas enrolled at LearningQuest where he quickly excelled, passed all his tests on the first try, and graduated within five weeks.  Since taking classes at Cal-Trade last October, Nicolas has a job prospect with PG&E, and had his parole reduced from three to one year based on good behavior and positive outcomes.  He is all set to graduate from the Cal-Trade Welding School on March 22nd.


Adilene Zamora Ortiz – High School Equivalency (HSE) Award

Only 16 years old, Adilene was living in Mexico, trapped in an abusive relationship, and forced to drop out of high school.  For six years, she lived in impoverished conditions, working in the fields to support herself, her son, and her abusive partner.  Moving to San Diego, and her son almost three years old, Adilene gained the strength to leave the abusive relationship.  After joining a GED program in Salinas and attending a school for Medical Assisting in San Jose, she decided to follow her real dream of going to law school, but she needed her diploma.  Adilene got married to a supportive partner, and after the birth of her daughter, enrolled in LearningQuest’s HSE program, and earned her diploma in just five months.  She plans to begin classes at Modesto Junior College this year.

John Arnold

John Arnold – Betty Mulnix Service Award

John has tutored since 1985 and began tutoring with LearningQuest in 2018.  In the past three years, John has tutored an entire immigrant family–husband, wife, and young son.  He meets with the whole family, sharing storytime books with the child and making it a family tutoring session.  John loves tutoring, his passion is contagious.  He says, “For me, the tutoring relationship is very special.  It is pure fun to see my students light up when they manage to demonstrate improvements in reading.  Also, sitting down with another person for 90 minutes each week almost always results in great conversations about every imaginable subject.  I always get as much enjoyment out of my students as they do from me.”  The family says John is a mentor and friend who walked into their lives.  He tutored the wife to pass her citizenship test.  He brought children’s books for their child.  He taught them the language of living and working in the U.S.  Their son refers to John as his “English Grandpa.”  When he did his Pre-Kindergarten homework, he listened to a recording of “Grandpa John” tutoring him in English.

Cathy Ferrell

Catherine Ferrell – The Jean and Clyde Dunlop Award

From childhood, Catherine wanted to be a teacher.  Her academic accomplishments include a BA in English Communications, K-12 multiple subjects and reading specialist credentials, and MA in Reading Leadership.  She taught for 40 years, serving as a K-8 mentor teacher and instructional coach, and as adjunct reading professor at a university.  Coming out of retirement in 2019, Cathy joined KidsQuest, a LearningQuest program providing free one-on-one tutoring for children with dyslexia.  She has expanded KidsQuest services, recruited tutors, garnered new students, built trust with their parents, fundraised, and advocates for literacy.  Catherine continues to study cutting-edge strategies to address learning disabilities and passionately helps parents looking for answers or resources, tutors who have questions or need support, and children who are struggling with reading.  She launched a new KidsQuest program: the Reading and Spelling Academy to help children enjoy reading and writing by learning about word history, origins, and structure.  Using many different methods of learning to support her students, as well as create resources on dyslexia for pediatricians, Cathy is making a great impact with families in Stanislaus County.

Enjila Farokh Ahmadi – Scholarship Award

A $500 scholarship will be awarded to Enjila, a refugee from Afghanistan.  She had to adjust to a new culture and educational system so she began classes at Turlock Adult School to help with linguistic and communication skills.  Enjila advanced from ESL to Basic Adult Education to the high school diploma program.  She plans to pursue her career goal of establishing a privately owned fine arts/design business encompassing projects from jewelry to home décor.  In addition to fine arts, she desires to obtain skills in entrepreneurship, human resources, and financial, office, and assets management.  She envisions turning her business into a publicly owned corporation within 10-15 years.  She plans to enroll at Modesto Junior College in the Fall of 2022.

LearningQuest – Stanislaus Literacy Centers is a non-profit organization that has provided literacy services to more than 10,000 people over 30 years.  No cost programs are available to help adults earn their diploma, families to learn English, and adults and children to improve reading and writing skills through tutoring.  Serving individuals throughout Stanislaus County, hybrid (in-person and online) classes and tutoring now makes it possible for any student from any location to work on educational goals. 

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