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Dropouts are WOO'd to try harder; Hope replaces despair by giving 2nd chance

Susan Notes: The hometown newspaper that has studiously ignored the WOO finally pays tribute to accomplishment. Yesterday, July 29, The WOO held its 2006 GED Graduation & Student Achievement Ceremony at the Birmingham Civil Righst Institute.

We offer congratulations to the GED graduates and the National Adult Education Honor Society Inductees.

And what can we say about Steve except that he is a shining example of someone who does not quit but continues to work for what is right. He is bolstered by a loving family who help him keep on keeping on.

GED GRADUATES & National Adult Education Honor Society NAEHS INDUCTEES

(1) Martez Bimbow
(2) Shadiqua Cheatham
(3) Emanuel Cobbs
(4) DeMarkkus Collins
(5) Holly Garcia
(6) Warren Goodgain
(7) Dierdre Hill
(8) Nicole Humphries
(9) Estella Johnson
(10) Laqwetta Kelly
(11) Denita Mincey
(12) Demetrius Prewitt
(13) Cecil Stubbs
(14) Veronica Tabb
(15) Tonia Ward

Aneesa McMillan

When Nicole Humphries was in middle school, she was so discouraged about life she tried to commit suicide.

In school she was placed in learning-disability classes, which led to an occupational diploma. She always wanted more.

Saturday, Humphries walked across the stage at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and received her GED certificate after completing classes at the World of Opportunity in Gate City. In the fall she will enroll at UAB.

"I feel like I broke a curse," said Humphries, now 22. "I never thought I would come to this point in my life."

She is one of 12 students this year to receive a graduation equivalency diploma from the program housed in a small building near a public housing community and small industrial sites.

"When I came there, I felt welcomed," Humphries said.

Everyone including some of Humphries' closest relatives told her that she wouldn't have any options and that she would never be able to receive her GED, she said.

WOO classes meet Monday through Friday.

Program directors Steve Orel and Corey Howard unlock the doors, and along with volunteers, expose students to a comprehensive learning program.

Humphries isn't the first WOO student to overcome obstacles and gain admission to college. A total of 69 WOO students have received a GED since the program began in 1996, and 42 have entered college. In addition, 430 students from the center have found jobs with the skills they learned at WOO.

During her senior year in high school, Laqwetta Kelley was in an accident that left her with several broken bones.

"I thought, `Oh my God, I'm going to be a nobody,'" said Kelley who is now 20. "I was mainly depressed a lot."

She was unable to finish high school and stayed at home for two years, she said. "I was just resting for that time. I felt hopeless."

Things changed, she said, when her father told her about the WOO.

"He told me there was this program that can help you get a GED and find you a job," Kelley said. "Since I've been here, they have helped me achieve all that."

In addition to the GED program, WOO also offers a certified nursing aide program, computer-aided design, and computer programming and technology classes.

"I'm doing well now and fulfilling my goals and dreams," Kelley said.

Kelley plans to take her GED test this summer so she can take part in the next graduation celebration.

She wants to become a legal secretary.

Like many of her fellow students, Kelley said she turned to WOO after others had turned them away. Some of them look at their WOO sessions as the most important hours of their lives.

"I am so eager to get this under my belt so can move forward in life," said Tamika Thurman, who left high school because she had difficulty with her parents' divorce.

She tried the WOO program in 2000 but didn't stay.

"Sometimes, kids just want to hang out and let their friends affect them," said the 23-year-old who plans to go to college and major in the music business.

When she returned, Orel, the program director, treated her like she never left, she said.

"He's a jewel in my eye," Thurman said. "He puts his best foot forward to see that we prosper." Thurman is just one of many who credit their success to Orel.

For Orel, a former school teacher, WOO is his passion. He takes issue with public schools that dismiss students because of a "lack of interest." And he challenges students and inspires them to show their academic talent, students say.

Orel has challenges of his own. He continues to work at WOO while battling colon cancer. Orel said he is in stage four of his illness and is considered terminally ill.

Although he struggles with failing health, Orel said his mind and spirit are still as strong as the day he walked through the doors more than 10 years ago.

"I just feel pretty strong right now," Orel said. "I'm still useful plus I'm afraid if I go home and lay down, I might perish quicker ... seeing them do well, that's my medicine."

E-mail: amcmillan@bhamnews.com.

— Aneesa McMillan
Birmingham News


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