Local man learning to read at 61 years old

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HIGH POINT, N.C. -- He’s 61 years old and in the first grade.

He didn’t want to reveal his identity for fear that others would know his secret.

“It's embarrassing,” he said.

“Johnny,” as we are referring to him, never learned how to efficiently read.

"My reading wasn't so good, but I learned how to fake it in some sort of way,” he said.

Johnny grew up on a farm during the 60s, and didn’t have many opportunities to get an education. If he wanted to eat, he had to work the farm.

"When I did go to school I was behind. There were two or three classes all in one, so if you got behind you stayed behind, but they would pass you to make room. So that's where I'm at today,” he said.

Johnny says he has done a good job keeping his secret over the years.

“Now that was hard. I had to put on a good show,” he said.

But after a while, the hiding became exhausting.

“It’s a bad feeling when people around you know that you're not up to date with them. So I decided to do something about it,” he said.

The Housing Authority told him about an adult literacy organization called Reading Connections.

In 1990, the program began in the basement of St. Pius Catholic Church in Greensboro as a referral literacy hotline.

It has since grown into a nonprofit that serves all of Guilford County providing private one-on-one instruction to adults.

Last year, the organization helped 1,000 adults with illiteracy or low literacy skills.

Linda Miller is a volunteer tutor with Reading Connections who is also a retired dyslexia specialist for Guilford County Schools.

"Having retired, I couldn't reconcile having all of this knowledge and not using it,” Miller said.

Miller has been working with Johnny for the past eight months, helping him to truly start over learning vowels and consonants and how to sound out words.

Miller says the work they are doing is the equivalent of first grade.

She works with Johnny for two hours a week during a one-day session and it’s already making a difference.

"I'm amazed at his persistence and dedication,” she said.

Johnny could have easily continued to slide under the radar since others did not know he couldn’t read, but he says a changing world made him seek help.

“Technology. Computers. It’s a whole world out there that I'm not a part of. I would like to be a part of that,” he said.

Reading Connections serves people 18 and older. Most of its clients are between the ages of 25 and 59.

If you are interested in becoming a student in the program or serving as a volunteer (training provided), click here and call either the Greensboro or High Point office.

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