Vincent DePaul delivers a welcoming wake-up call

“Katie, it’s time to wake up,” my mother said in a singsong voice, stroking my hair.

As my first alarm clock, this was how she woke me for school. She walked to the window and opened the curtains to “let the Lord in” and did a musical number like a real-life Disney princess. At least that’s what it seemed like from under the covers – someone way too excited and awake in the morning praising everything from the Sandman’s visit to the glorious morn.

I simply made intelligible sounds that she was finally able to interpret as “five more minutes.”

“It’s time to wake up. Come on,” she said with a hint of pleading.

Thirty-some years later, I’m still not a morning person.

I’m also not a fan of the motivational quotes people love to post every morning. They serve their purpose at times but are another person’s genius. Most of them are extremely overused – rise and shine, rise and grind, good morning sunshine.

I’’m pretty harsh in the morning.

When Vincent DePaul, founder and owner of Gangster Vegan Organics, video posts began to pop in my newsfeed every morning, I watched them daily despite him mentioning the morning, my sworn enemy. They didn’t make me want to smash my phone. Or go back to bed. They made me think. It gave me a jolt more powerful than the cold brew coffee I require.

ar-180309927-jpgmaxh400maxw667“Peace and love. It’s your boy Vinny Vegan, a.k.a the Gangster Vegan you woke up today, you are a miracle, it is a miracle in itself. You are extraordinary. Go do extraordinary things,” DePaul starts each video. He then talks for about a minute on the things currently on his mind. But they all have similar themes. DePaul, a Norristown native, makes no secret of his past struggles, his move to Los Angeles and return, his transformation, and the extraordinary benefits of a plant based diet.

With close to 20,000 Instagram followers, he has not only attracted customers who rave about Gangster Vegan Organic’s juices and bowls but a community of support. There are also “haters.” How can there not be? Look around. What’s more convenient? A cheeseburger or a fresh squeezed juice (with no sugar added).

Talking about just eating plants when you live in an area covered with cheesesteaks, hoagie and pizza joints isn’t exactly a popular opinion.

DePaul cries tears of joy recalling when he got pulled out of the “gangster lifestyle” in the mid-thirties. He changed his ways and admits it was hard. He sees that it’s difficult for adults to change even their diet because they are set in their ways. It’s why he makes a strong effort to reach the younger generation. DePaul conducts various “Feed the Kids” events in Norristown at schools and churches to provide children a free vegan meal.

He went through the Norristown public school system and ate the food the kids still eat today. He wishes someone would have visited and offered a plethora of fruits and grain bowls. He doesn’t preach veganism but instead, gives them something they might not otherwise have the experience of tasting. He also takes time to serve vegan meals in area hospitals and prisons. It is where DePaul noticed that schools, hospitals and prisons are all serving the same food.

“There is a direct connection. They are feeding them poison. Keep them rowdy and violent,” commented DePaul. “It’s a hard battle to fight. If I can get into one classroom and one class. We have to actually “gangster” our way through all of the poison, just to find access to real food.”

It isn’t limited to food. DePaul believes that people are heavily influenced by a culture that glorifies violence among many other vices. He implores people to stop worshipping their phone, television, movies, rappers, and athletes and to start worshipping God.

“It’s a hard pill to swallow. It’s easy to get lost in my phone, social media, and television. It’s very hard to reconnect and get back with God and nature. I’m not bashing these things but when you aren’t connected to anything else, you get lost in a whirlwind of confusion.”

DePaul recently returned from a spiritual retreat to the Amazon jungle in Peru. He calls the much-needed excursion the best trip he’s ever taken.

“I detached from this life and reconnected back to nature and God,” said DePaul. “It is very easy to get away from with all the technology and running a business. I came back with clarity and a peace of mind. I’m ready to move forward on some things.”

One of those things is the expansion of the Norristown location. Gangster Vegan Organics is in the final phases to move into the recently closed neighboring Joe’s Seafood. It would double the size of their current space.

“I love where I grew up and I love where I’m from,” said DePaul on a recent afternoon at his West Main Street store which opened in 2014. He has also opened a location in Phoenixville. “I’m planting seeds here that I may never see grow and it’s part of the mission.”

DePaul should know some of the seeds are blooming around him right now. While I am not a vegan, through his morning messages DePaul has not only made me think, but take action.

I read food labels more closely. If I can’t pronounce it, I know I shouldn’t eat it.

Just because high fructose corn syrup is in everything, doesn’t mean it has to be in me.

I feel better after eating fruits and veggies.

Instead of grabbing a midafternoon cold-brew, the Redman (a juice with strawberry, apple, orange and lemon) at Gangster Vegan was a much better option.

And he almost made me a morning person.

If anything, that shows that miracles are possible and we have the rest of the day to make them happen.

“Sometimes we get caught up in our stuff and don’t realize that waking up is a miracle. “A lot of people didn’t wake up today,” said DePaul. “It could be a smile or a hug. It doesn’t have to be monetarily. We are all dealing with things. But we are here another day, lets make the best of it.”

For NAHS swim team, the wins aren’t in the stats, they’re in the athletes

Al Pacino won his only Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as retired Army Ranger Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade in the 1992 film, Scent of a Woman.

One of the main reasons Pacino claimed the coveted prize was his iconic speech at the end of the movie. A blind Slade enters the packed auditorium of a prestigious prep school to defend his aid-for-the-weekend Charlie (Chris O’Donnell) who as at risk for wrongly being expelled.

Much like Philadelphia Eagles folk hero Jason Kelce, Pacino’s character Slade goes on a rant as he calls out various people.

“And if you think you’re preparing these minnows for manhood, you better think again,” he says to the school’s administration.

High schools, even the non-prestigious types, are supposed to prepare their students for adulthood. There is not much time in between algebra, Shakespeare and chemistry class for such lessons to be crammed in. It is why extracurriculars are so important. The added hours give adults more time to teach lessons that don’t require a whiteboard or a Power Point presentation. After the final bell, teenagers are choosing to forego a gaming system or hours on Snapchat to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

High school kids are still minnows – their brains and bodies not yet fully developed.

Still, people put too much stock on the wins and losses of high school sports often forgetting that these are children playing a game. Certain sports get the “losing program” label based on their record. However, if you looked beyond wins and losses, you may find a team full of honor students or community service volunteers.

Would you still use the word “losers” to describe them?

Norristown Area Aquatics Head Coach Beth O’Neil is candid when she speaks about the high school boys and girls swim teams. Many of its members have never swam competitively before joining. There are also a number of special needs students on the squad, many of whom swim in events and earn a varsity letter.

At most meets, the Eagles are outnumbered and outswam. O’Neil’s encourages her swimmers to not focus on where they place but improving their times from meet-to-meet.

A graduate of Norristown High School and coach for over twenty years, O’Neil is aware of the school’s reputation.

“We know when we walk out of wherever we swam we are holding our heads high. We are representing Norristown. We are going to say we are doing the best job we can and we are going to be adults. That’s what I try to groom,” commented O’Neil.

Integrity is often defined as what you do when no one is watching, even when it may work to your disadvantage.

At the February 1st swim meet between Plymouth Whitemarsh and Norristown not many people were watching. “Friday night lights” aside, few people outside of parents are spectators of high school sports. Media coverage usually only goes to the top teams and the blue-chip athletes.

It was the Colonials final home swim meet, and Head Coach Kevin Golebiewski wanted to get “Mike,” a senior who was diagnosed with autism as a child, his first win. He had been a dedicated swimmer for three years and only swims in the C-Relay.

Golebiewski loaded the relay with his fastest swimmers and anchored with “Mike.” When “Mike” dove into the water he was three-quarters ahead of everyone else.

“I thought for sure he was going to get first win ever,” said Golebiewski.

But with about six yards left, the Norristown swimmer, Alex Waskiewicz, caught “Mike.”

The driving force in every swimmer is to touch the wall first. Heck, it is the fuel behind every athlete in any competition. Be first. Be the best.

ar-180229900-jpgmaxh400maxw667The years of training and swim meets eventually make it instinct. Even if you are overmatched, every fiber of your body tells you to touch the wall first.

When Waskiewicz caught “Mike,” he was just doing what he had been doing since he was started swimming at six-years-old with O’Neil at Markley Farms.

Waskiewicz has the instinct of a swimmer, but at that moment, he also had an intuition something bigger was happening. He slowed down, matching “Mike” stroke for stroke, and let him touch the wall first.

“I don’t think many people saw it unless you were really paying attention to what was going on. I thanked him right afterward,” said Golebiewski. “For someone to do that at such a young age, it makes you proud of what athletics is teaching these kids. It’s not always about winning and losing. It’s not always about who touches the wall first.”

Waskiewicz knew that “Mike” had special needs and said he “sort of figured” they were trying to get him the win during the last meet of his senior season.

What made him slow down?

“If I was in that situation I would want that for myself. I felt it was the right thing to do,” Waskiewicz.

He credits his parents for instilling values such as respect for others. He even admitted that what he did, “felt better than winning.”

While talking about his selfless act, the sophomore spoke in humbled, measured tones but when asked about his passion for swimming, his eyes widen and he becomes quite animated.

“I love how swimming meshes the team and individual aspects. There is something about being a family with everybody,” said Waskiewicz.

He would eventually like to break one of the individual records for Norristown High School’s pool. This season marks his first as a team captain, and he wants to pass on values to other swimmers.

“We aren’t the biggest team and we aren’t going to win most of the meets but if we have fun doing it and are respectful it’s all worth it,” commented Waskiewicz.

After the February 1st meet, Golebiewski emailed Norristown’s athletic director to praise Waskiewicz and the Norristown’s coaching staff.

The most important message O’Neil promotes is leaving a legacy. Instead of what was your fastest time or how long have your been training she asks a much different question.

“What legacy will you leave when you walk out of this building? Can you walk out of here and say I did my very best and prepared myself for the next level,” said O’Neil.

Already, Waskiewicz left a legacy with his unselfish moment of sportsmanship.

“It made me very proud of him. He’s going places,” said O’Neil.

The places Waskiewicz is going are beyond the wall of a swimming pool. But it is the lessons he learned while still a minnow that will serve him well in manhood.

 

For once, ‘get used to it’ is a good thing for Eagles fans

Since I was young enough to sidle up next to my father under my own free will and watch Philadelphia sports, he warned me about the losing and disappointment that came with being a fan.

“Get used to it.”

During trips to Veterans Stadium for Phillies games when the woeful late eighties teams couldn’t even muster a run.

When Dad called to cancel Prism as the Flyers were about to get eliminated from the playoffs again.

But Dad really hammered home the message about the Eagles. Maybe because we loved them a little bit more and thus, the losses had an extra sting.

My first real memory of the Eagles was the 1988 season. The Birds finished atop the division and made the postseason for the first time since 1981. The Buddy-Ryan led squad lost in the infamous Fog Bowl.

“It’s like the fog lifts every time the Bears are on offense,” Dad said incredulously.

The Eagles went to the playoffs five of the next eight seasons but never advanced past the Divisional Round. Now a teenager, I was starting to get used to always waiting until next year.

When the team hired Andy Reid, it was a hope that anything would be better than Ray Rhodes. It also raised my expectations, especially the NFC Championship loss in 2001. The Eagles had a franchise quarterback in Donovan McNabb and in only his third season since taking over the Rhodes-trainwreck, Reid had brought the Eagles to the brink of a Super Bowl birth.

“We’ll be back. Next time, they win that game,” I said.

Dad, older and wiser, knew not to take it for granted. It hurt him more to watch the Eagles lose to the (eventual champ) Rams. At that point, it was only the second NFC Championship game in his life he had ever seen the Eagles play. It doesn’t happen every day….but…you get used to it.

We get used to – not without complaining – the mediocre teams. But with this era of Eagles, we soon discovered something much more painful.

Crushing playoff defeat.

Ronde Barber’s interception in 2002.

Ricky Manning’s three interceptions in 2003.

Rodney Harrison’s interception, Andy Reid’s clock management, and McNabb puking in 2004.

Scott Young’s drive killing false start in 2006. Jeff Garcia could have been St. Nick that year!

Larry Fitzgerald’s dominance in 2008.

“Get used to it.”

Misery loves company. Eventually, I didn’t just watch games with Dad. My brother, Harry, joined us. Mom played the role of the sports widow and watched the first quarter then went to the mall. In 2000, I met someone who matched my passion for the Eagles (and all Philadelphia sports), my husband, Tom. He had recently purchased season tickets, not because he was flush with cash, but because the ticket agent talked him and his friend into it since they were going to almost every home game. A few of Tom and I’s first dates were at the 700 Level of the Vet, and our “unofficial” housewarming party was in 2004 when the Eagles lost to the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Some fans will never know the near-nightmare of the Eagles nearly leaving the city in the early eighties. Or believe that less than twenty years ago the team had to have a sales pitch for season tickets. Or suffered a thousand deaths by the hand of the team they love. Others have gone through all that, and a Franklin Field boatload more.

On Super Bowl Sunday, I watched the game with Dad, Tom, and my mother. The mall closed at six so she didn’t have any better options. My brother is out of the country on business, but we kept in touch after each quarter via FaceTime.

Every season I watched the Eagles it’s ended in disappointment. Despite everything that happened this year and the way this team made me want to believe, I was waiting for it all to end horrifically.

27459326_10154951507351626_2454921352016869710_nDad was optimistic all season. “It’s going to be all right,” he kept saying. Tom, and so many others I know, recalled recently deceased loved ones who weren’t here but were surely watching from the ultimate skybox. “It’s fate. And the NFL MVP has ever won the Super Bowl,” he reasoned.

I didn’t believe until the clock hit all zeroes.

The feeling that followed was worth the thousand deaths. The Rich Kotites, Shawn Andrews, Bubby Bristers, the Sundays watching, the Mondays wallowing and marrying a guy just because he had season tickets (joking).

The days following the Super Bowl were like nothing I have ever experienced. I’ve never seen more grown men cry, more euphoria, or outpouring of pride. Personally, I’ve come down with a case of the cry/laughs. The first time…okay…half dozen times I watched Doug Pederson’s post-game speech I cried, but it was immediately followed by giddy laughter when I realized the Eagles really won.

“An individual can make a difference,’” Pederson said, “but a team makes a miracle.’”

People will point to the “Philly Special,” Brandon Graham’s strip of Tom Brady, or Zach Ertz’s touchdown as the reason the Eagles won the Super Bowl. I’m not only a die-hard fan of the team, but I’m a fan who pores over draft guides and other nuances. It can be easy to pick any of those unforgettable plays, but for me, I was waiting for this team, like all the other who preceded them, to disappoint me. When it didn’t happen, I couldn’t attribute it to just a gutsy call or timely play.

It took a miracle.

Which is why when Pederson said at victory parade to “get used to it” I believed him.

Aunt Betty’s impact will last a lifetime

It isn’t fair that my name and picture appears in this space every Sunday. Most of the people who have played a role in helping me achieve my dream of being a writer have never seen their name in print or have no digital footprint.

Today, I’m honored to be able to write about Elizabeth Borzillo, someone you won’t find on the Internet or the pages of a newspaper. It didn’t mean she didn’t live or her life lacked meaning. Borzillo dedicated her life to family and Norristown was her world.

I know Elizabeth Borzillo as “Aunt Betty.” Technically, she is not my aunt but my great aunt. She lived on the 300 block of East Main Street with her sister, Ida, and next door to her brother (my grandfather), my grandmother, mother, and two aunts.

Betty never drove a car, married or had children. Instead, she spent her life by her sister Ida’s side. Ida was diagnosed with polio at a young age and only given a few years to live. Defying all odds, Ida lived a full life, running a beauty shop out of her home on Main Street. She passed away peacefully two months shy of her 98th birthday six years ago.

Betty worked at Logrip’s rug factory on Main Street and my mother, Alesia, and her two sisters, Alexandra and Rebecca, had a close relationship with their next-door-neighbor aunts growing up.

ar-180129794-jpgmaxh400maxw667You may have an Aunt Betty. She always had a broom in her hand and was sweeping something. And she walked everywhere.

When they got older, Aunt Ida and Aunt Betty eventually moved to Plymouth Towne apartments. It’s where most of my memories of them begin. They are the aunts who you never remember being young, but suspended in senior-citizenhood, never aging.

Aunt Betty worked at the Sandy Hill Genuardi’s deli counter for almost four decades. Her curly red hair sticking out under her Genuardi’s hat, she was always smiling. She was a ball of energy who ran circles around workers half her age.

You may have an Aunt Betty. You’re not quite sure how old she is but know it would be rude to ask. She’s healthier than everyone you know. Probably because she walks everywhere and never stops moving.

On Saturdays or early dismissal from school, my mother would take my brother and I to pick up Aunt Ida and Aunt Betty and run errands. For some kids, this would be torture. Wedged in the backseat between a great-aunt and a wet-willy giving brother while my mother makes stops at Kmart or Bradlees. But my mother’s love of her aunts rubbed off on my brother and I.

Aunt Betty would reach in her purse, fold up a certain denomination bill, and slide it into my hand. She did this, without fail, every time I saw her.

You may have an Aunt Betty. She’s the fun aunt. The one who gives you money without your parents knowing and then watches you zip to the toy aisle to grab the Barbie you’ve been eyeing.

After the shopping was finished, we would get something to eat. Aunt Betty loved Chik-Fil-A or Burger King. The senior coffee. The French fries. She wasn’t a high maintenance lady. She got the most enjoyment from being with her family and hearing us tell her what we were doing. But a close second was opening up her purse and filling it with piles of napkins, straws, and sugar packets before we left the restaurant.

You may have an Aunt Betty. She’s the aunt who is preparing for the Armageddon where Sweet & Low and coffee stirrers will be our salvation or at least a form of currency.

After Genuardi’s closed the Sandy Hill location, Aunt Betty officially retired. She spent the next few years helping her dear friend, Eve Mashett, owner of Eve’s Lunch, doing what she does best. Sweeping. And she cut a lot of tomatoes. I got married and had my own home, and when I visited Aunt Ida and Aunt Betty, she never let me leave without a bag full of paper products. Until don’t live with your parents anymore you never fully realize how much you need paper towels and toilet paper. All. The. Time. Luckily, Aunt Betty still folded up another form of paper and slipped it in my hand.

When Aunt Ida passed, Aunt Betty lived with my Aunt Alexandra and Uncle Richard. She remained an avid sweeper, walker, and Action News viewer.

Last week, Aunt Betty passed away two months shy of her 99th birthday.

I can only hope you have or had an Aunt Betty. Because she was a part of my life, she shares this space with me not only today, but whenever I write. Her selfless life with the ultimate sisterly love. Her dedication to family. Her generous spirit. They all left an indelible mark on me.

It will last longer than a roll of paper towels and much longer than the ink from newsprint.

 

For diehard Philly sports fan, real life becomes a fantasy camp

The Philadelphia Phillies offer a Phantasy Baseball Camp from January 17- 21 in Clearwater. You get to spend time with Phillies Legends who, “coach you, get to know you and share stories of the glory days with you.”

The Phillies are very liberal with the term “legends.” When I think of sports legends names like Iverson, Clarke, Carlton, and Dr. J, come to mind. Not Chris Coste, Mickey Morandini, Kevin Stocker, Scott Eyre, Rheal Cormier and Randy Ready.

I guess when you are the losingest sports franchise – sorry – “phranchise” of all time the pickings are slim.

Aside from bringing a Springsteen song to life, you get to play ball and compete against the Legends at Bright House Field, the Phillies Spring Training Ballpark.

Some people’s fantasies obviously include ruptured rotator cuffs, torn labrums, tweaked hamstrings, and twisted ankles.

For me, this week came pretty close to my own sports fan fantasy.

It started on Saturday when the Eagles played the Falcons in the Divisional Round of the NFC Playoffs. As I’ve mentioned before, I am a die-hard Philadelphia sports fan, especially of the Eagles. I also embody some of the stereotypical worst traits of a Philadelphia fan. Mike Schmidt once said, “Philadelphia is the only city, where you can experience the thrill of victory and the agony of reading about it the next day.”

Unlike many of my Eagles fan brethren I didn’t fret with the common refrain of, “yeah, they won but..” when they won two of their last three regular season games after quarterback Carson Wentz down with a season ending knee injury.

I made my predication right after Wentz walked off the field in Los Angeles.

“He tore up his knee. He’s out for the year,” I said with the certainty of Rothman orthopedic surgeon.

My husband, Tom, already pale from what he just witnessed, glared at me. “You don’t know that!”

“That’s the luck of the Eagles but….”

There is always a “but” with Philadelphia fans…and it’s usually fatalistic.

“But Foles is going to take us to the Super Bowl…where we will lose.”

So on Saturday, seated next to my father, I had faith that the Eagles would escape with a win. But you wouldn’t have known if you were in earshot.

Only a few people can bear to watch an Eagles game with me. My comments are acerbic, rude, and Debbie Downers…until the Eagles do something good then I leap out of my seat and send anything not nailed down flying.

“Did Alshon Jeffrey dress today?”

“Can Nick Foles throw the ball more than five yards?”

“Why don’t they just give the trophy Tom Brady.”

“Even I know they are going to pass to Julio Jones…”

But…the thrill of the win was worth the four quarters of nail-biting agony.

On Thursday night, the Flyers honored my favorite Philadelphia athlete and all-time sports crush Eric Lindros. The Wells Fargo Center looked like they hired teenage Katie to decorate since it was wall-to-wall Lindros. When the team acquired him in 1992, I was on the verge of becoming a teenager and he was the sports hero I needed.

Devastatingly handsome. A generational player.

26734473_10154912099531626_5908677196380844804_n 26815166_10154908547761626_8968061292918422688_nI invested heavily in all things Lindros from hockey cards, posters, magazines and Starting Lineup figures. I even based a college entrance essay that asked where I pictured myself in the year 2020 on him.

I detailed a morning in the life of a myself, a writer for Sports Illustrated, with my recently retired new husband Eric Lindros. Luckily, whoever was tasked with reading the piles of papers shared my affection for the “The Big E” or enjoyed the gumption it took to submit mild sports themed erotica to a Catholic university.

A few days later, I met the man in-person when he was signing autographs at the Oxford Valley Mall. Yes, the restraining order has expired (wink, wink). Tom, who isn’t threatened at all by my love of Lindros, got me tickets to the signing for Christmas.

“I won’t stand next to you when you meet him. I don’t want to ruin your chance,” he said, genuinely trying not to laugh.

Tom knows that my Lindros lust is pure fantasy.

It served as a welcome distraction as the NFC Championship drew less than 24 hours away. Wherever I went this week I saw everyone from grandmoms sporting Eagles hats to toddlers wearing their first Carson Wentz jersey.

“That kid’s going to learn what heartbreak is at a young age…” I thought but didn’t say.

Instead I wondered what it would be like if the Eagles did win. Not just on Sunday but the whole thing. The euphoria. The tears. The agony of having nothing to complain about the next day.

Maybe there is a better sports fantasy week not too far away.

Secret’s out — Norristown Literacy Council opens doors of opportunity

There are different types of best-kept secrets.

Some are things to be proud of. Long-standing mom-and-pop-shops. A block filled with well-maintained homes.

There are others that are secrets in a different sense.

The Norristown Literacy Council experiences both types.

Executive Director Theresa Oliver calls the organization the best-kept secret in Norristown but insists they are not hiding.

“Adult education is not sexy. It’s hard to get donors. The work requires partnerships between the students, the tutors and a long time buy-in,” commented Oliver.

unknown-14The Literacy Council of Norristown provides instruction in Adult Basic Education, English for speakers of other languages, and GED to adult learners in the community via classes and volunteer tutors. The small non-profit works exclusively with adult learners who come from diverse backgrounds (some are Ph.D.’s in their home country).

The Literacy Council trains volunteers to work with Adult Basic Learners one-on-one tutoring for reading, writing, and math. Tudors meets twice a week with students for about an hour and a half in a public place.

Oliver noted the number of parents in programs because their children have a grasp of the language and they do not. It puts parents in the odd position of having their children translate. However, they still are children and they may not understand all of the words they should translate or as they get older. Especially in cases of disciplinary action or the child’s education, Oliver has witnessed parents only getting half the story when children are left to translate during parent-teacher conferences. According to her, Upper Merion School District is a leader on making a concerted effort that ESL parents are getting English classes to support the children.

Oliver experiences the other side secrets, too. She motions to the outside of her office on Airy Street.

“There are still lots of people walking around in this area that fit that the profile of a high school drop out with no GED,” said Oliver. “Someone would be hard pressed to prove otherwise that we have a high performing academic situation going on here. I don’t think so. There are people in Norristown who can and should be working but can’t get in.”

She sees this first-hand from people in the programs and when she travels into the neighborhoods. Some understand their lack of high school credentials dictated their path and they don’t want the same for their children. Most of the dropouts Oliver sees are 30-35-year-olds who dropped out in the night grade.

“There is nothing wrong with them intellectually. As long as they were in school they could probably do the work,” said Oliver. “We all know there is an education gap. There are groups of people who don’t have the minimum education to get a family-sustaining job due to lack of a high school diploma.”

She says through her experience in the position she has observed that they wont get it for several reasons: a bad previous school experience, it’s too difficult, they have managed to survive for this long either through support from the state or “hook or crook.”

“They have resigned themselves to their level of income. A GED isn’t a panacea, but it will open up another door.”

Oliver came to the Norristown Literacy Council as a volunteer. She’s an avid reader who is fascinated with languages and learning. Through her time at the Literacy Council, she heard people’s stories as non-English speakers experiences as they left a home and culture to pursue the American dream. There are disappointments in her position, some people start with the best of intentions but don’t finish, but she makes no secret her love of her work.

“It made my world bigger. I consider these people friends.”

It is the message Oliver received as a child that continues to drive her every day – learning never stops.

“We need to value education and stopped putting a stigma on those who don’t have what we take for granted,” said Oliver. “More would come and ask for help. It’s hard for them to come and ask for help but when they do…they don’t get enough support. It’s hard. When you are an adult, and you know you don’t know how to do something it’s hard to maintain the self-motivation. If you are going to be a participant in a larger society you need to know what’s going on. It requires you to be able to read and understand.”

Knowledge is power may sound cliché, but it’s only because it’s no secret.

Statistics on from the Norristown Literacy Council

  • In Pennsylvania, 48% of adults are at or below level 2, and in Norristown Borough, 56% of adults are at or below level 2.
  • 50% of U.S. adults function at or below the second of five levels of literacy.
  • 1 in 5 adults read at or below the fifth-grade reading level, not high enough to earn a living.
  • The U.S. ranks 10th in literacy out of 17 high-income countries.

Low literacy is not just a problem that affects the individual; it affects society at large.

  • 43% of adults falling into the lowest literacy level live in poverty.
  • Low-literacy adults make an average of 35% of the wage of those at the highest levels of literacy.
  • 70% of mothers on welfare fall into the lowest two levels of literacy, and the literacy level of the mother are an important predictor of her child’s future literacy level.
  • 70% of prisoners are at or below literacy level 2.