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Susan’s journey to success

“Dumb.”

“Stupid.”

“Slow.”

These words, hurled by teachers, strangers and even family members, became the building blocks of Susan’s self-image. She faced the brutality of growing up in the 60s and 70s as a kid with an undiagnosed learning disability. At the time, such differences were not widely understood and definitely not respected.

Susan grew ashamed and frustrated. Her brother could read a piece of text in 20 minutes that would take her hours to stumble through. When she entered the workforce, she lost job after job because she couldn’t keep up. The paperwork required of her was overwhelming. Life was like a big puzzle that everyone else already had figured out, but she couldn’t seem to make the pieces fit together. She was lost and didn’t know how to find her way.

As an adult, Susan shelled out thousands of dollars on assessments and meetings with specialists so she could receive an official dyslexia diagnosis when she was in her twenties. Suddenly, her life’s struggles began to make sense, but they were far from remediated.

“Sometimes I think faster than my [mouth] works. I say stupid things,” Susan said. “People just weren’t understanding.”

But everything changed when she found the Adult Literacy League in 2005. Susan called the office and spoke with Gina Solomon, the Adult Literacy League’s current Executive Director, but Program Manager and a volunteer tutor at the time. Gina had never worked with a student with dyslexia before; nevertheless, she was determined to help Susan.

Susan and Gina, her first ALL teacher, together at Reading Between the Wines in 2014.

When Gina and Susan began working together, Susan was reading at about a 5th grade level. They churned through workbooks together. They played Scrabble. They did crossword puzzles, and drilled flash cards, and read true crime books together until, slowly but surely, Susan’s confidence and skills started to improve.

So did the rest of her life. Friends and family commended her progress, telling her that she carried herself differently since beginning lessons. She secured a customer service position with a large financial corporation – a company she is still with to this day, although in a much more senior analyst role.

“She was my best friend,” Susan said of Gina. “She knew that I was troubled and frustrated that people always thought I was stupid or dumb, but she gave me the confidence, the courage [and] the self-esteem to find a new job.”

Eventually, a promotion for Gina meant that she no longer had time in her day to work with Susan, so she rematched her with tutor Leslie Doster. Leslie was a founding member of UCF’s Communication Disorders Clinic, a perfect match for Susan. The two met every Saturday at the Winter Park Library for 2-4 hours to continue where Susan and Gina left off. With Leslie’s help, Susan’s reading, writing and concentration skills soared.

“Leslie and Gina showed me that even with having dyslexia, I can turn it around,” Susan said. “I only have a handful of friends that I can trust with my dyslexia, but with them by my side, I [knew I could] trust myself to continue learning.”

And so she did, even when she stopped receiving the League’s services. Even when Leslie, her beloved former tutor, passed away in 2022. Susan saw Leslie a few months before her passing, and her teacher reminded her to keep up with her reading and writing. Susan promised she would, a promise she hasn’t broken. She’s come way too far to look back now.

These days, Susan participates in clubs and events she would never have had the confidence to participate in before. She grows and even shows stunning, prize orchids. She’s an athlete who recently turned in her tennis racquet for a pickleball one. She participated in a workplace Toastmasters club for years – even winning awards, something she would have never had the confidence to do before.

Susan went from being downtrodden, depressed, misunderstood, lost and lonely to becoming an empowered, self-sufficient, confident leader. If you ask her, Susan attributes her success to the Adult Literacy League and her two favorite teachers and friends, Gina and Leslie.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the Adult Literacy League, without Gina introducing me to Leslie,” Susan said. “I just want to say thank you again.”

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