I inherited my love of reading and writing from my dad.

I often joke that I came out of the womb reading. Not sure I could hold a candle to Dad, though. My mom once commented that he could “read the words right off the newspaper.”

He and I spent every Sunday poring over the newspaper, section by section. From the time we got up until it was time to leave for church, then after lunch until evening church service, between the two of us we read it ALL. I skipped the classifieds; he didn’t. I read the society section, and I’m pretty sure he passed on that.

In other words, literacy — while we didn’t discussed it with that terminology — was very important to us.

Bruce Oakley Just in Time Award
Bruce Oakley honored with Just in Time award. (If only they knew. #LateForHisOwnFuneral)

I married one of those dudes, too. Bruce got a degree in English (mine is in journalism), and he has volunteered for the past few years for the Ozark Foothills Literacy Project. In fact, the organization honored him with its inaugural Just in Time award a few months ago “in recognition of his dedication to logistics and ’saving the day.’ ”

That’s my Brucie.

Yes, literacy is important to us.

So when Bruce let me know this week that the literacy project’s director, Morgan Reed, created a Facebook Fundraiser dedicated to taking donations for the program (in lieu of birthday gifts), we knew we had to donate. Bruce also insisted that I read Morgan’s story. I’m usually the one pestering him to read something that I find meaningful, but this time it was the other way around. I’m glad he didn’t let me off the hook with simply making an online transaction. I read Morgan’s story and immediately asked if I could publish it on two of my blogs.

I’m so glad she said yes.

Here’s Morgan’s story, reprinted with her permission:

“I know we all have things going on. Whether you have a new baby on the way, an illness you are battling, or you only have forty-three cents in your bank account, I’ve invited all of you for a reason. Not because I expect everyone to donate, but I hope that if you can’t give, you can at least share.

“For my birthday, I’d like to tell you a story. I’m a big fan of stories.

“In 2011, I was on track to be Valedictorian. I was enrolled in college classes while in high school. I had a 4.0 GPA. I did Zumba twice a day two days a week and walked everywhere! I helped care for other people. I did a lot of heavy lifting. I worked at the nursing home, sometimes doing overtime, sometimes 12 and 14 hour shifts.

“Then I got sick. Inexplicably one day, I had a seizure in Mr. Hall’s art class. My heart rate exceeded 200 beats per minute. From then on, I could barely walk down the hall to the bathroom. I had multiple seizures a day. I missed three months of school. I had to drop my college classes with no refund, and without the extra credit, I was no longer Valedictorian.

“I gave up a full ride to ASU and consequently my bachelor’s degree, because I couldn’t live on my own. I had to have a babysitter. I couldn’t drive. I was 17. I went from being the person taking care of others with disabilities to being the person with the disability.

“I worked a year here, three months there. The result was always the same. I’d run myself into the ground, constantly faint or have seizures at work and end up having to quit.

“It was frustrating to me and to everyone in my life, but I went to Ozarka [College] and got two Associate degrees. I couldn’t afford to move or to transfer, so instead of racking up student debt, I just tried to find work. It was incredibly tough. Every job description said ‘must be able to stand’ or ‘must be able to regularly lift X amount of pounds.’

“I was an emotional wreck, so I moved back home to try to take care of myself. I lived in a ’77 Dodge motor home. The front cab was my closet, and the oven door doubled as a night table.

“I found an ad in the paper for an office assistant at the Ozark Foothills Literacy Project, and I did some research. I was accepted for an interview, and I was so nervous. Like all the places I worked before, I didn’t mention my disability. I wouldn’t until I was hired on.

“I was shocked to hear back the next day that I was hired! I thought it would take weeks! After my first tutor training, I told them I was a freak of nature. Turns out, another person that was considered for the job also had POTS, so they knew of it, and they didn’t care.

“They didn’t care that I was sick, or that I was driving a rusted out ’92 S10. They didn’t care that my water pipes busted every other day. They didn’t care that I didn’t have a bachelor’s degree. They gave me a shot, just like they did every adult learner who came through their doors.

Morgan and her sleeping beauty, Aslyn.

“When I miscarried just a month into the job, they supported me. When I had to leave every other day for blood draws, they supported me. They sent me to classes to learn new software, new teaching methods, and all about career development. Then ultimately, they believed I was good enough to take over the program as the director.

“The Ozark Foothills Literacy Project gave me a chance, but I’m not the only one. Every person who comes to us for help gains an opportunity to improve their skills, be connected to the community, and referred to services they might need.

“I’ve seen people get their citizenship, college degrees, GEDs, jobs. I’ve seen them learn to navigate on their own after divorce and domestic violence. I’ve seen children learn alongside their parents, and I’ve seen a man in his fifties write a letter to his wife for the first time.

“So, if you can’t donate, I understand. I have forty-three cents in my account until payday. I have a one year-old with an expensive diaper habit. I have medications and bills. But please, if you don’t mind, share this for the folks that need a chance. Share it for the 9,500 that need our services. Share it for the 36 million nationwide. Share it, because it only takes a second.

“Thank You.”

Click here to make a donation to Morgan’s fundraiser (no amount is too small).

Happy birthday, Morgan! We’re big fans of stories, too.

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