Greenville Literacy Association: Offering Adults a Chance for Financial Stability

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When Jermaine Johnson was in high school, he made some bad decisions. He left school behind and didn’t graduate when he became a teen parent. He regretted this decision over the next twenty-two years and even attempted to get his GED a few times. One time he came within two points of passing the GED exam – if only he hadn’t stayed out partying the night before the exam; perhaps his life would be different now.

Over the years Jermaine did find work. For the past 11 years he has been a CNC operator. While he has enjoyed his job and works extremely hard, Jermaine came to a crossroads last April. He knew that it was time for him to finish his education and get the skills he needed to advance in his career.

So now, at age 37, Jermaine is committed to getting his GED to offer his family a better future. He wants to set a good example for his four children. In July, he began taking classes at Greenville Literacy Association’s (GLA) McAlister Square location. Three to four times a week Jermaine is studying subjects like science, social studies and geometry. And he welcomes the homework. “While I hear other students complain about the homework, I prefer to have it so I can learn,” he chuckled. Jermaine has taken the GED practice test and plans to take the actual one very soon.

GLA’s Adult Education program works with anyone who is 17 or older to upgrade their basic skills, work towards a GED, study to take the WorkKeys exam, or take English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. Many people think that GLA only teaches people to read. While GLA continues to offer literacy training, it does so much more. Over the organization’s 50-year history. it has changed with the times. Its current focus is on preparing adults to be college and career ready so they can become financially stable.

All of GLA’s teachers are trained volunteers. During our interview, Jermaine repeatedly recognized his teachers.

“These volunteers offer their personal time to teach people like me who have fallen behind. I want to thank them for giving me their time!”

The organization has a small professional staff that supports the volunteers and administers testing and registers the students from three learning centers located in Greenville, Greer, and Simpsonville. Last year nearly 1,000 students were served. Half were upgrade and GED students and the other half were ESL students.

In addition to taking his GED classes, Jermaine took the WorkKeys exam through GLA. He passed with flying colors. As a result of this certification, he enrolled in the Advanced CNC Operator course offered by the Greenville Tech Quick Jobs program. GLA is paying for Jermaine’s tuition with funds provided by Greenville Rotary Charities. GLA is also providing him with a tutor to help him with any needs as he goes through the program. When Jermaine completes the Advanced CNC training, he is optimistic and excited about his job prospects. “You have to have a dream, and mine is that I will get a job at GE,” he said.

On several occasions during our conversation, Jermaine shared with me that he truly enjoys a challenge. He must in order to make such a huge life change at 37 years old. He is not only preparing to take the GED exam, but he is also enrolled at Greenville Tech.

And he is doing all of this for his four children who range in age from nine to twenty-two. “I recently had a heart-to-heart talk with my oldest son,” shared Jermaine. “I told him, ‘If you want to have something in your life you can. You just need to do something and make your mark on this world.’” Then Jermaine paused and said, “And you know, I think he heard me. He posted what I said to him on Facebook!”

For more information about the Greenville Literacy Association please visit or call 864.467.3456.

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Debbie Nelson

Debbie Nelson is the president and founder of DNA Creative Communications, a woman-owned public relations and inspirational marketing firm for nonprofit organizations. Under Debbie’s leadership, in 2010 DNA founded Shine the Light Nonprofit Forums, an annual training program for Greenville nonprofits in partnership with the Community Foundation of Greenville County, the United Way of Greenville County and the Hollingsworth Funds. To support other nonprofits across the state, she also manages education programs for the South Carolina Association of Nonprofit Organization. As an a advocate for the nonprofit community, each month Debbie shares nonprofit stories in her Shine the Light columns in the Greenville Business Magazine and the Columbia Business Monthly. In addition she teaches nonprofit marketing at Clemson University to inspire and develop future nonprofit leaders. Debbie is a graduate of Leadership Greenville, Leadership South Carolina and the Riley Institute’s Diversity Leadership Initiative. She currently serves on the boards of the Greenville Area Development Corporation, the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities and the United Way of Greenville County.

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