On a warm summer night last year, 50-year-old Marchette Hellams went online to check her score on the high school equivalency exam she had taken a few weeks earlier. She was hopeful, but realistic: she had failed the math portion of the exam three previous times.
Marchette, who was already a professional singer in her teens, dropped out of high school in the middle of her junior year. Her father was upset, and she promised him that she would go back to finish school even as her career started to take off. But, several years later he died unexpectedly before she had the chance to keep her promise. Over the next three decades, she tried several times to earn her high school equivalency diploma, but fell short each time.
Marchette came to Literacy Partners motivated not only to keep her promise to her father, but also to earn the credential she needed to enroll in a bachelor’s degree program and begin a new career in artist management. Her teachers gave her encouragement, intensive coaching in mathematics and critical thinking, and support until the day she took the exam.
“I cried like a newborn baby!” she says. “I had passed!” More tears of joy came for Marchette when a long-time Literacy Partners supporter and former board member, Jackie Weld Drake, surprised her (and all the graduates at a ceremony in November 2016) with a $1,000 college scholarship.
“We live in a city where one in five New Yorkers is functionally illiterate–who cannot read a bedtime story to a child or fill out a job application. Offering the gift of reading to an adult who heretofore couldn’t read a subway map or write a letter, and especially to one who is ready to go to college, in honor of my late husband, Rodman L. Drake, gives me great pleasure.”
-Jackie Weld Drake
At the graduation ceremony, guest speaker New York City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, a leading voice for adult literacy, spoke of Marchette and her fellow graduates as “a tremendous inspiration. All of them worked tirelessly, and overcame significant educational barriers to reach this day.”
Marchette is now enrolled in college and working with her husband to open their artist management business.