We were honored to have two BeLit students speak as representatives of their class: Jen Marenbach at our BeLit Graduation Celebration event, and Amira Sloan at Philadelphia’s Citywide Graduation ceremony honoring high school equivalency earners. We invite you to read their inspiring speeches below.

Jen Marenbach, GED and Workforce Graduate

Good morning families, friends, and Class of 2023 graduates. My name is Jennifer Marenbach, and I am a Beyond Literacy GED graduate. My appreciation for my parents, family, friends, and the staff at Beyond Literacy, especially Mary Ellen Norek, knows no bounds. What you guys do is amazing!

When I was given the opportunity to learn about BeLit in the summer of 2022, I had one goal in mind: earn my GED before my first-born daughter, Aubrie, graduated high school. She was beginning her senior year that September and it was very important to me to show my children that it’s never too late to do something that matters.

I also have a 5-year-old son, Leo. Due to circumstances out of my control and a devastating custody battle, my family lost out on a good part of his childhood.

Becoming the victim of domestic violence and spending a total of nine months of my life incarcerated, I was lost. I needed something better, I needed to not only survive – I wanted to thrive.

I planned to receive my GED during the four months that I spent in Bucks County Correctional Facility; however, Covid put a halt to these plans. After finishing my sentence, I entered back into my dual diagnosis mental health and recovery treatment through Merakey, where I was introduced to the opportunities at Beyond Literacy.

I joined their GED and Pre-Apprenticeship program and earned my GED in less than a month with high scores in every subject. I also gained five different certifications in their pre-apprenticeship trade program. I then decided I wanted to pursue a career in human services and am now enrolled in Community College of Philadelphia. I choose to enter this field, even though I love the trades and have the mechanical skills, because I wanted to give back to others and serve the community as they have given me a chance for a new life.

My children have been my greatest inspiration and my parents, my biggest fans. I will continue to show my kids that the blood of warriors runs through our veins, and we have the greatest power there is – an amazing tribe behind us.

During the darkest days of my battles, those days I didn’t have it in me to keep going, it was my tribe who gave me a chance to rest. Through the unwavering support of my family, friends and staff at Merakey and Beyond Literacy, I was able to accomplish my goals.

Amira Sloan, GED Graduate

Life can be unpredictable. I thought I would have a traditional high school experience, all four years, prom, graduation, the whole nine yards! However, things didn’t go as planned. I had a bad injury in high school on top of a major blow to my mental health. Teachers and administrators tried to support me, but it was impossible for me to get to classes, making it difficult to keep up.

I felt abandoned. I was moved to online home-schooling and could not make any progress, so I left the program. I was officially a dropout, but I kept moving forward. It was a grueling process; not every day was easy, sometimes I felt alone, some days I felt like a failure.

Then I found an amazing pillar of support and stability in my life, Beyond Literacy. I had no idea programs like this existed. I found BeLit through a google search. The information available on the website solidified my decision. This program helped me in so many ways. I will forever be grateful. I learned I am not as alone as I thought I was. The process was easy. I called and scheduled my placement test in no time. I didn’t feel nervous or rushed. I attended orientation and was soon provided with my class placement.

Everyone was so nice; it wasn’t hard to fall into a rapport. No one was judged for what they didn’t know or couldn’t grasp. Being in that kind of environment taught me that everyone has a story, and it’s not over until you say it is.

With the help and care I have received, I got my GED and can now move forward with my life; it is freeing! I can now say with clarity, I have plans for my future that seem within my grasp. Before, it seemed I was just working at no end. I thought I would be at the same job for the rest of my life, but getting my GED has opened up so many doors. While working at Walgreens, I will undergo classes provided by my job to become a pharmacy technician, my dream career. Helping people and providing care seem to be things I’m naturally inclined to do. I’m excited and look forward to starting this next chapter in my life!

I would like to thank my amazing teacher, Barry Johnson. From the first day of class to my last, he was a joy to be around. Always engaging with a positive attitude; I always felt encouraged and empowered. Thank you to every BeLit staff member I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. I had a wonderful experience, inviting and incredibly warm; this process reignited my hope in others.

Thank you to everyone in the Beyond Literacy community; your support and assistance will continue to uplift and inspire countless others, just as it has for me. I would also like to thank my mother, Tarenda Sloan. She has been my rock and an amazing source of inspiration. She has shown strength my entire life. Every time I wanted to give up or finally throw in the towel, she was right there motivating me. I could never repay her all she has done and continues to do for my future.

There are many people who entered my life and devoted their time and effort to making my goal possible today. I have nothing but love and gratitude to offer them. I would also like to thank myself; I took a leap of faith that empowered me to become a stronger version of myself! Thank you all for allowing me this opportunity!

Read our July newsletter, The BeLit Bulletin here: https://conta.cc/3rcgb3t

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