Success Stories

Of the 200,000,000 adults in America, 43,000,000 have not finished high school (US Census) and 93,000,000 (45% of the adult population) function below the high school level (National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) NCES 2005). Over 143,000 adult learners attend Adult Education and Family Literacy programs each year. Their goals are varied and range from learning to read, learning to speak English, obtaining a GED, to transitioning to careers and college. Although their goals are different, all of these people have something in common. They have taken the first step toward their goal.

Scroll down to watch the videos and read the success stories of some of the 23,000 adult learners we serve throughout New Mexico.

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Luz Carballo lives in Albuquerque and enrolled in the Catholic Charities GED class at Dolores Gonzales elementary school in order to help her 13 year old son with his school work. She says, "I do my homework with my son and we help each other. Also I am able to respond to his questions. I want to get a better job. When I was young I did not have the opportunity to go to school and since I now have the opportunity I will take advantage of it because it's never too late and I love the education." Luz attends every class, works very hard and does all the homework. She is on track to be a very successful GED graduate, and her assistance to her son will help in his educational successes as well. Luz's instructor at Catholic Charities is Carlos Vasquez.


Esmireya Aguilar is a 26 year old mother of 3 children. She was born in Santa Rosa Valparaiza Zacatecas, Mexico where she attended school until the 9th grade. She stopped attending at that grade level because that was the highest level offered in her small town. She enrolled in the Shining Stars Even Start program (a partnership between Shining Stars Preschool, the Even Start Program and UNM Los Alamos Adult Education) on May 9, 2011.

The reason she decided to enroll in ESL classes was because she wanted to know what was going on in everyday life and she wanted to help her kids in school. She and her family attended the Even Start summer program at Shining Stars where her children participated in literacy rich activities while she attended an ESL/Parenting course with 10 other parents.

During a home visit in September, Esmireya showed how much she had learned over the 3 months in the program by stating that she wished she had known how important it was for her to read to her children at such an early age. She explained that because of all the books given to her over the last three months even her youngest child, 1 year old Juan loved to read books.

Esmireya has learned how to use a computer during her parenting computer course offered through the Even Start Program. She is able to look up parenting resources via search engines, send and receive email and use the tumble books website with her children. Esmireya's children are greatly benefitting from her experience and knowledge as she is becoming more involved in her children's academic life.

Esmireya's instructor is Cathy Varney.


Budu Rai visited the U.S. for the first time in 2002. Some American friends agreed to sponsor the trip for Budu and her husband, who had wanted her to see life in the U.S. Little did this couple know that they would not be able to return to their homeland of Nepal ever again. While on their visit, the civil war between the government and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist rebels) had become very dangerous and the Nepalese people were being killed in great numbers. Budu and her husband made the painful decision to remain in the U.S. leaving their three young children in the care of family members in hopes of getting visas for them to reunite in Santa Fe.

In the meantime, Budu was afraid to go anywhere because she could not speak a word of English and had never been to school in her life. She could not read nor write in any language. In Nepal she could get by as a successful businesswoman running a restaurant, but in the U.S. she found herself desperate for a job and more desperate to communicate and become literate.

In 2003 she met a friend who brought her to Literacy Volunteers of Santa Fe. She was matched with a dually trained ESL and Basic Literacy master tutor, Kevin DiPalma. Kevin agreed to meet Budu five mornings per week in her home before she headed off to her full time job at a local restaurant. Budu said that for two years Kevin showed up at her house at 7:30 am and taught her how to speak and how to put sentences together. Budu was later matched with Basic Literacy tutor, Susie Knight, with whom she still meets. With both tutors' help, Budu says she can now go anywhere and talk to anyone about anything and she can read anything you throw at her. In proof of this, Budu came to the literacy office in the fall of 2010 with her husband Uttam and said they wanted to study to become U.S. citizens. They said they had made this decision because there is no country like the U.S. where people help other people the way they had been assisted. Recently, Budu and Uttam studied faithfully with citizenship tutor, Lillian Baumbach, and in spring 2011, they passed their test and were sworn in as U.S. citizens! To further their dream, their children have been with them for six years and they are all succeeding in school with one graduating from engineering school soon, one taking nursing classes at SFCC, and the youngest is an active, gifted student in music and science.

Now Budu brings in other students in need of tutors and is forever grateful to tutors like Kevin, Susie and Lillian who volunteer time to teach students like her how to speak, read and write in English for the first time.

Most recently, Budu has registered for culinary arts classes at Santa Fe Community College in hopes of furthering her education.


Phil Martinez is a shining example of dedication and perseverance. He began classes with us at ABQ-GED in 2008 at the age of 43 and graduated in December 2011. A rancher from a small town in northwestern New Mexico, Phil came to the program not needing to get his GED, but sincerely wanting it. This proved to be difficult, however. Phil suffers from diabetes, and complications from his condition caused other health issues. Despite these health problems, Phil's attendance remained the best of any student throughout his entire education.

His participation did not end in class. Phil has participated in ABE Day since the very first one. He has attended almost every field trip our program has offered, even if he had attended a similar one in the past. He has also actively helped with fundraisers, letter writing campaigns, and many other extracurricular activities.

Phil not only plans to go to college and major in business management, but he plans to continue helping out students still trying to achieve their GED as a volunteer for our program. He is a wonderful role model not only for our students, but for his children and grandchildren. He has proven that no matter what the obstacle, you can achieve your goals if you never give up.


Alejandro Valenzuela grew up in poverty. As a young teenager, he was arrested for both shoplifting and fighting and describes himself as a "delinquent" when he thinks back to those earlier days. Indifferent, drifting, he dropped out of school after the eighth grade despite his mother's encouraging him to get a good education. As a young man, he worked sporadically. Nothing felt right; nothing took hold. He was working in a foundry, and one day he had this strong sense that there was something out there that held more possibility, that would be a truer path for him. He wasn't sure what it was, but he knew he had to reach for something new.

At the age of twenty-one, Alejandro Valenzuela entered the Adult Basic Education program at Santa Fe Community College on August 26, 2009. Like so many GED students, he needed to work on math. Alejandro attended one math class every day early in the morning and another every evening. He also regularly attended a Career Pathways class in the afternoon four days a week working on GED prep, career exploration, and developing the self-reflection and critical thinking skills that will, hopefully, serve him in the workplace and throughout his life.

In addition, we often found Alejandro in open study labs poring over GED prep books. It is no exaggeration to say that he has spent many days at the college from morning till night, sometimes frustrated, but always respectful and appreciative of a teacher's help, never far from the hope that moves him onward.

In December, he passed the official GED Math Test with a good score. He has taken the Social Studies and Science tests and is waiting for his results while continuing to attend classes and study for his remaining tests. After Alejandro passes his tests, he plans to become a full-time student at SFCC. The Lottery Scholarship makes college a realistic goal for him. In April, Alejandro will be leading a workshop at the "Leaders to Leaders" Conference, which is going to bring students from all over New Mexico to SFCC.

Alejandro is a very special and responsible young man. What impresses his teachers beyond his commitment are the deeper notes in his personality - a dignity maintained though adversity, an intelligence open to the world, and his hope for a better future through education. All his teachers admire his tenacity and see his enormous potential.


Blanca was born in Jalisco, Mexico in 1984. She loved school as a child and was able to complete the 9th grade in Mexico. She remembers having had only one uniform that she would wash every evening to have clean and ready for school, and sometimes it would still be damp in the morning when she went to class. Blanca was not able to continue with high school because there was a fee for secondary education and her family could not afford the expense. When she was 18, Blanca came to California with her family to reunite with their father. By this time, Blanca had a son who was a year old and Blanca was not able to go back to school as she had to care for her son. While her brothers were able to go on to highschool, Blanca was not supported in attending as her mother held on to the belief that a woman's place was in the home. A year later, Blanca moved to Taos, NM with her son as she had the opportunity to work in a restaurant owned by a family who she knew from her hometown in Mexico.

It was another 8 years until Blanca joined the GED program. The event that motivated her to start the GED program was when her son, then 9, did not want to do his homework. When she explained that it was important that he do it so that he could become a doctor or policeman, he responded that he wanted to be just like his mom and work in a restaurant. Blanca said, "I wanted so much more for my son. So that got me into the GED program."

Blanca began our program a year ago, January 2010. Coming to the program was hard. She still had to do everything by herself, support her son, work at the restaurant, make sure that he did his homework, and then still make it to class. The class met 4 evenings per week but she had to miss one evening each week to go to work as she could not afford the time off. She would make sure that she got the assignments from her teacher so that she did not get behind and was prepared for the next day's class. It meant that sometimes she would study from 1:00-2:00 in the morning, especially the math, as that was the only time she had. "It really helped me to keep coming to school when my teacher got me on the computer to learn about different associates degrees and I could begin to see a future for myself. My teacher helped me figure out what I wanted to do and that kept me going."

Blanca passed her GED in Spanish 6 months later with very high scores. She continued in our program in an ESL class to strengthen her English skills to be college-ready. And now, one year later, Blanca is enrolled as a full-time student at the college and still continues to hold down a job. She hopes to be a social worker so that she can help others as herself - especially those who do not have others in their lives to encourage them.

Her teacher says of her, "Blanca was an inspiration to her classmates. She is an example of hard work, of one who never had something come easy, but she found a way to push the obstacles out of her path, and continue to pursue her dream. She is a role model to others and especially to her son."


Jerremie Yazzie-Miller is a very admirable Student for many reasons. Jerremie has had many hurdles and barriers thrown at him starting at the age of two. Some of these challenges were caused by his environment, while others were caused by his own self inflictions. Jerremie has always known and been taught that education is the core to a successful and prosperous life, even if that meant some of his educational needs would be met behind bars. While Jerremie was very aware of his educational needs and desires, factors such as alcohol and violence stepped in his way in obtaining the education that he dreamed of.

Starting at a young age, Jerremie was subjected to family violence, tragedy, and alcoholism. Jerremie's childhood lacked parental and emotional support. As time went on, his struggles and barriers became overwhelming which caused him to resort to the exact environment he had grown up in. The lack of Parental support and structure compounded with dysfunction, caused Jerremie to start down a path of self destruction. By the time he was 14, alcohol, courts, police, and skipping school became his way of life.

Jerremie spent many of his next few years in and out of jail and prison for many different alcohol related charges. While Jerremie was in prison, he started his path to self discovery. Jerremie remembered that the way that will lead to a prosperous life was through education. He started in the GED program while in Prison. He realized that this would be the best use of his time while having to pay the consequences for so many bad decisions he had made. While in Prison, Jerremie passed 3 of his GED final tests and was ready for a healthier lifestyle.

Upon his release with no formal treatment for alcoholism, Jerremie relapsed. Jerremie continued drinking for a few more years, reliving his old lifestyle. Jerremie finally checked himself into a rehabilitation center to try to free him of the emotional distress that prolonged the barriers on his path to sobriety.

Through sobriety, Jerremie is now a very diligent student with the San Juan College ABE program. Jerremie has made huge progress in the program. He continues to tell his story to other students. He is a peer tutor, assists teachers and all of the while he is glowing with his new found success. Jerremie is a prime example of how determination, diligence and hard work can change someone's life for the better. It is never too late! When bad decisions deter one from their dreams, one can still get back up, acknowledge that although it may be too late to go back and change things, one can still move forward and get back on the right track. Jerremie has proved this and we are very proud of him!

As quoted by Jerremie, "I got back into the SJC ABE Program and studied devotedly. My schedule seemed short, so I stayed 3 hours longer each day studying. Now I've been sober for sometimes with no desire to have that next drink thanks to the ABE Program. The ABE program welcomed me back to refurnish my life and fulfill my goals. Due to my attendance and educational mind set, I have been free from many hard obstacles. I am now 29 years old and I am a Father, Son, Brother and Uncle to many. I am a proud man with my education and found that I have become a legacy in my life to say that I have survived and now my pursuit and my passion are in learning, studying, and moving forward into college".


I would like to nominate Michael Trujillo to represent the students in the Rostrum for ABE Day at the Roundhouse. Michael completely exemplifies the motto, "NEVER give up!" He came to our program in September of 2007 at the age of 38. His positive attitude and infectious humor made him a joy to any classroom. He was also very honest about his past. A convicted felon and former heroin addict, Michael was always there to give advice and help to younger students who were at risk of following the same path he once walked. He was also a devout Christian, and he always had a way of sharing his beliefs without pushing them on anyone. He knew he didn't want to go back to his old lifestyle, and he knew that an education was essential to do that.

He took the GED test for the first time in April of 2008, passing all but the Math and Language sections. I came to the program in May of 2008, and he became my student at the Mountain View Community Center. In June of 2008, he took the GED test again. This time, he passed the Math portion and surpassed the minimum average score. Language would prove to be much harder for Michael to master. Still, he never gave up. Michael took the test in mid 2009 and failed, but he continued coming to class.

Tragedy struck shortly before Halloween in 2009 when Michael contracted a nearly fatal case of the H1-N1 virus. He barely made it to the hospital before he collapsed, falling into a coma for two months. There were many times when the doctors did not know if he would recover, but Michael's will proved to be stronger than the virus. Just after New Year's Day 2010, Michael awoke from his coma. His dedication to his education was no more apparent than with his first statement to his wife. When Michael first woke up, he did not know that he had been in a coma for two months, and he could not talk. But the first thing he wrote to his wife was, "Tell my teacher I won't be coming to class today." Even though we laugh about it now, those words first made us all at SER want to cry. We knew that nothing could stop Michael from achieving his GED goal.

It took several months before Michael could come back to school regularly, but he eventually did. He took the test again in mid 2010, but once again failed. I was initially afraid to call him and tell him, but his reaction, as it had been with past bad news, was, "Oh well. I'll get it next time."

And that is exactly what he did. In November of 2010, armed with renewed knowledge and confidence, Michael took the Language test for the last time. This time, when I got the score, I couldn't wait to call him. He was very excited, but couldn't scream because he was in a store when I called.

Of course, he has not stopped with his GED. With the help of scholarships and Pell grants, Michael began classes at Central New Mexico Community College on January 10th. He is on his way to much bigger and better things!

As you can see, Michael has overcome many obstacles in his life and learned from his past to bring about a better future. He is a joy to be around, an exemplary student, and outstanding human being. It is with great pleasure that I nominate him as one of our student reps, as I believe he is the greatest example for our current and future students.