For some of the students, returning to school as adults for basic reading and math can be a humbling experience. Shine Douglas, 19, said he dropped out of school at such a young age he doesn't remember the last grade he completed. He's ready for that to change.
"I reached that point to where I said it's other things I'm trying to do in my life and I need an education. Fun is going to be there all of the time but education, it's time now," Douglas said.
Douglas's desire to learn converges with Dennis Gregory's desire to teach. Gregory volunteers to teach this class twice a week through the Tolton Adult Education Center.
"You come here to Tolton, we don't care what your past is. We love you, we want to work with you. The object is to make your life better," Gregory said.
After a 26-year career in banking, 62-year-old Gregory retired recently as a senior manager. He is now earning his master's degree in adult education and has plans to earn a PhD. He figured out that literacy was his calling after organizing an adult tutoring program through his bank several years ago.
"I loved banking. I did pretty well for myself, but I loved education even more," Gregory said. "I'm old now and I know I'm living this life right. I will check out of here one day, as we all will, and it's important for me that I live my life right and help other people along the way. Nothing is more important, nothing."
Tolton Executive Director Susan Perez says volunteers are critical to the organization and vital to students. There are more than twice the number of working volunteers than paid staff.
"It's a time of really increasing need and decreasing resources," Perez said. "The fact that people will take their time and give it to our students is an affirmation to our students and Dennis has been a very positive role model as well."
That sentiment is echoed by Gregory's students.
"I'm soaking up everything and I have a good time while I'm doing it. I'm learning everything and that's what I come here for cause everyone here they willing to teach me and I'm willing to learn," Douglas said. "I thank them all the time and let them know I appreciate them showing me not only the love and the help but just their time alone cause they don't have to help me, they don't. I appreciate that a lot."
Tolton Adult Education Center also offers GED and English as a Second Language courses. Most of their classes are in neighborhood schools and libraries and they are always free. Sign up for a course or volunteer to teach one at dls.org/tolton/education_program.jsp