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Our Learners

Community Learning Center changes lives through programs that build academic skills as well as confidence and perseverance. Our services go beyond traditional GED and ESL instruction to include equally important competencies such as computer and financial literacy, resume writing and career readiness, and individual student support services that help reduce the barriers incurred by so many of our vulnerable and impoverished learners.

Every day, our learners work hard to succeed their academic and personal goals. We are inspired by the hard work, dedication, and commitment each of our learners have made to their education, their families, and themselves. We celebrate their successes and are humbled to have been a part of their journey. 

Get to know some of our recent CLC learners below.

Mitchell Foster

“I go to CLC to feel good about who I am. I’ve had a tough life, so it’s time to finally have something positive.”

Community Learning Center opens at 8:30 every morning, but staff members arriving early are never surprised to see Mitchell Foster already waiting at the front door. “Being early shows people that you’re serious about what you’re doing,” Mitchell says. “If you’re late you might miss out on a good opportunity.”

Once inside, the learner known as the “Unofficial Mayor of CLC” makes his rounds, greeting every staff member and checking in with his fellow classmates. “I love it here,” he says over and over again. “I’ve had a tough life, so it’s finally time to have something positive.”

“A tough life” is an understatement for Mitchell. Born and raised in a low-income neighborhood in North Philadelphia, he was the youngest for four children. His mother died when he was just eight
years old; with his father deployed in the military, Mitchell and his siblings were often on their own.

“We had to fend for ourselves since no one was around to take care of us,” he remembers. “I dropped out of school in 6 th grade so I could steal things to make money. I was addicted to drugs by the time I was 12 years old.”

Thus began a life-long battle with drug addiction and homelessness; Mitchell took to sleeping in abandoned houses and street corners, joining gangs who filled the void for his missing family. At age 27, he fell asleep on a sidewalk in the dead of winter and woke up in the hospital having had both legs amputated due to frostbite. “I lost everything because of addiction,” he says. “I knew I needed help.”

Help came from his brother, who worked as a rehab counselor and secured Mitchell a spot in his program. “I was angry all the time and couldn’t hold down a job,” he says. “Rehab got me back on track.” While attending rehab counseling, Mitchell spotted a flyer for Community Learning Center and decided to enroll. “I barely went to school when I was younger and I always dreamed of having a high
school diploma,” he recalls. “I figured I had nothing to lose, so I called the number.”

When Mitchell first enrolled at CLC he tested at a 2nd grade level in reading and math. With anear-perfect attendance record and outstanding work ethic, he improved three grade levels in less than
one year.

“Everyone is very supportive of me, and now I can read much more than I used to,” he says. “I know I still have a long way to go to get my diploma, but I’m not giving up.”

Just last month, Mitchell graduated from his rehab program after 18 months of counseling. He continues to recommend CLC to everyone he meets and considers himself an ambassador for the organization. “I tell people that I go to CLC to feel good about who I am. I tell them that I’m 62 years old and I’ve had a hard life, but it’s never
too late.”

Instructors

Volunteers

Adult Learners

Ben Hoffman

Ben Hoffman grew up in nearby Havertown and attended grade school there. He loved his school experience but his family was forced to relocate him to Upper Darby High School when his brother was expelled from Havertown and the family left the neighborhood.

Ben remembers struggling with the transition to Upper Darby:

“It was hard to assimilate into that newbculture. I got in trouble a lot and it was hard to avoid fights. Eventually I was so unhappy that my mom pulled me out to home school me, but that didn’t work either.”

Frustrated with his education experience and fueled by a desire to earn money to support his family, Ben dropped out of school and
began working a variety of part-time jobs. “None of these jobs lasted very long,” he says. “I bounced around a lot. Since I didn’t have my high school diploma, there weren’t a lot of good options for me.”

It wasn’t until a part-time stint working on a construction site that Ben began to find his passion. “I got experience with roofing, tiling, concrete, you name it,” he says. “I got hands-on experience and got to observe the contractors. That was when I knew that I wanted to become a contractor myself, so I could manage projects and assemble my own teams.” The lack of a diploma loomed, however, so Ben decided it was time to go back to school.

“I was terrified,” he admits. “I was scared of getting laughed at, scared to fail.” He drew strength from his fiancé, who was also going back to school at the time. “I looked at her, a single mother who was working full-time and taking night classes, and I realized that if she could do it, then I had no excuse.”

After several failed attempts at completing his GED at other adult education programs, Ben finally found CLC and immediately noticed the difference.

“CLC was so much more welcoming and comforting,” he recalls. “It was the only school where they didn’t make me feel like a loser.”

Ben got off to a quick start, completing his Reading, Social Studies, and Science tests in two short weeks. The math test, however, took several months to complete and nearly derailed him. “I was tempted to quit a few times, but my teacher Patty kept supporting me,” he says. “I never would have finished without her.” When Ben finally worked up the nerve to take the math test one final time and received a passing score, he recalls an overwhelming sense of pride and confidence in himself. “The first person I called was my dad,” he says. “He had never really been active in my life, but I wanted him to know what I accomplished. I had recently lost my mom and both of my brothers, so it was important for me to tell someone from my family.”

Ben also told his children that he earned his GED, while also informing them for the first time that he had never graduated high school. “I had kept it a secret from them because I was ashamed,” he says. “I thought back to my friends’ graduation parties and how embarrassed I felt that I never had one. I decided it was time for me to be more open and honest with my kids so they could learn from me.”

Ben’s graduation party, although delayed, finally happened; he celebrated his success with his family and was the proud recipient of his framed diploma and a new pair of sneakers from his fiancé. Despite this incredible achievement, Ben is not slowing down anytime soon. “I’m registered to take the carpenters union test so that I can get a good-paying union job,” he says. “My instructor Patty has already offered to tutor me outside of her regular class hours even though I already graduated from the program. I think that’s what makes CLC different from everywhere else.” Asked to describe how he feels in one word, Ben chooses “liberated.” “I feel free now,” he says. “I’m free to go to college, free to get a good job, free to have a better life.”

Steven Aruz-DeJesus

Steven had been working independently on getting his GED for a year and a half and was getting nowhere. As a young, ambitious high school dropout, he was motivated by the dreams of a business degree and owning his own company; however, he lacked the core academic skills and self-confidence he needed to accomplish his goal. “I was worried about not being able to find a good job and not being able to afford things if I didn’t earn my diploma,” he says. “I wanted to have support if I needed it.”

That support came from Community Learning Center, where Steven found staff members and fellow learners who could keep him focused and inspired.

“CLC is really helpful to each student- they’re so intuitive and so supportive,” he says. “They helped me figure out whatever I needed and wanted, and worked with me to be able to achieve it.”

Steven highlights staff members Lindsay and Kieran for improving both his academic skills and his career readiness. In just a few short weeks, he created a resume, explored career options, and even attended a college campus visit. Most importantly, Steven gained confidence in his abilities that he never had on his own: “My CLC family encouraged me. I worked hard, came to class, and tried to have confidence in myself. CLC pushed me to show me that I was
ready.”

April was a life-changing month for Steven. Not only did he gain employment at the Philadelphia Zoo as a sales associate, but he earned his Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma by passing the GED exam. In fact, Steven scored so high on his tests that he earned college credits that he will take with him to Community College of Philadelphia and eventually Temple University. His dream of obtaining a business degree and establishing a career has never been more attainable, and a high school diploma was the key. “It opens up more opportunities for me,” he says. “It’s the foundation for a successful future.”

As Steven navigates this exciting new chapter, he reflects on the pride that his family and friends feel for his accomplishments, and the impact that CLC has made on his life. “I was ready to get it done,
and I got help that I needed,” he says. “CLC has helped me get to the next level of my life.”

UPDATE: We are still providing services remotely during the pandemic and have free resources to help you learn.