An international adult literacy agency is getting out more into its new community. Our Kat De Maria shows us ProLiteracy's new headquarters in Syracuse's Near Westside and tells us about the organization's new leadership program, featuring an inspiring community member.
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Working at her desk at ProLiteracy on Syracuse's Near Westside, Taywana James has come a long way from her childhood home of Flint, Michigan.
"I was physically and mentally abused. No mother, no father. I was raised by my grandmother, who was militant. I went through a lot. I had seven kids by the age of 21, welfare and struggling to take care of them, gaining knowledge, I didn't know how to read," James said.
Overcoming all of the obstacles against her, James became known as Mother Earth, a nickname that stuck with her when she moved to Syracuse and started getting involved in her Near Westside neighborhood. She and ProLiteracy are celebrating their third week on Marcellus Street, the latest positive change in the community.
"The physical changes that have happened with the Near Westside Initiative renovating commercial space with their partnership with Home Headquarters, upgrading housing, I think has brought the visible sense of opportunity, sense of hope. Lots of activity on the Near Westside with arts. There just seems to be some energy and some real hopefulness," said Mark Cass, ProLiteracy's vice president for community engagement.
ProLiteracy has helped educate adults worldwide for 40 years out of their former Syracuse area headquarters. But staff says they're excited to be in their new building, with initiatives like a free public computer bank, and, starting this weekend, a literacy for social change leadership program.
"This first group is in collaboration with the Westside Residents Coalition," Cass said.
After the initial group, the training will open up to anyone on the Near Westside. And Mother Earth is helping with recruitment.
"It's intimidating to have someone knock on your door all dressed up looking very educated and asking you go get involved in a literacy for social change training. It's more comfortable for them to see me at the door with my robe on," she said.
Mother Earth says she has observed that some people in the Near Westside feel overwhelmed or embarrassed by help from outside organizations. She says she's proud to be with a group that's a real part of the community, like her, and help overcome barriers in their home for a long time to come.
Anyone in Syracuse's Near Westside interested in the Literacy for Social Change workshop can call Mother Earth at (315) 422-9121 ext. 2457.