Getting sober was the first step; learning to read helps me stay that way

As the Holidays come around again, I am reminded of the transformative power of education delivered by compassionate, caring individuals. I would like to share, in his own words, the story of one of our LearningQuest graduates – Vern Blakley.

Bern overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles on his road to recovery and education. Here is his story:

“My name is Vernon Merl Blakley III. I grew up on Modesto’s West Side. In elementary school, most of the students at school carried knives – including me! It was scary, rough, and I got bullied all the time. Kids made fun of me because my clothes and shoes were from K-Mart. Because of being bullied and teased, I hated school and did everything in my power not to go to school.

“I got kicked out of every school I attended so I wouldn’t have to go to school. I had a lot of free time because I stopped going to school. I didn’t have goals, and I just didn’t care about anything. I stuck a needle in my arm at the age of 12. I thought I knew it all, that I was not the problem, and it was everyone else – not me.

“I caught my first case and ended up at the California Youth Authority. I was released and then I received a prison sentence. I got out again and received another sentence.

“With three prison sentences under my belt, I still didn’t find the reason for these problems. I covered my hurt and pain. I needed to grow and mature so that I stop doing what I do to those who love me: hurting others and breaking their hearts.

“I knew I had to change! I knew that if I didn’t stop drinking alcohol and using drugs I would die. But I didn’t want to die, so I went back to rehab. I got right with God and my journey of sobriety began: Oct. 2016 was my last marijuana, Nov. 2016 was my last meth, Dec. 2016 was my last sip of alcohol, and Jan. 2017 was my last pain pill.

“The very first year of sobriety, I volunteered for Stanislaus Recovery Services, Homeless Outreach and Community Hope and Recovery.

“My pastor, Phil Baker, took me to LearningQuest on Dec. 8, 2017 and I was back in school.

“This time everything was different. I fell in love with school, the teachers, and everyone in school. I scored 6th grade level upon entry and I cried because I finally realized how smart I thought I was. I realized I can be humble and open to learning. I did all my homework. I excelled quickly and started taking the official HSE tests. I passed all my tests on the first try in a seven-month period and now have my diploma. I love giving and serving because that’s where I grow. To be a part of something bigger than myself, I must give and serve.

“No more taking; I’m now a giver! LearningQuest helped me build my self-esteem and my self-worth. My goal is to go to college in Equine Science – shoeing horses and working and taking care of them. If I can do this, anyone can!”

Stories like Vern’s are made possible because of the generosity of our donors and the dedication of our staff and volunteers. At LearningQuest, we have launched our “Literacy for the Holidays” campaign. You can join us in this effort. Give the greatest gift: a chance to change a life.”

Karen Williams is executive director of LearningQuest.