Success Stories

Making a Difference Daily

“The reason I volunteer is because it continuously teaches me something and I enjoy working with other people.  Also, volunteering allows me to support more experienced people and work towards my goals.”

– Mark Anthony, Central Campus Foundational Skills Learning Resource Center Volunteer


"I love making a difference. Going to Goodwill has been so exciting for me. I love working with the Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Sight Impaired. Their excitement when they accomplish something is very rewarding.  I love volunteering at Goodwill and helping ABLE."


- Roslyn Meyers, Volunteer at Goodwill Industries


"I am fascinated intellectually by language and literacy acquisition. I enjoy working with people, kids and adults, who are learning to speak, read and write. Beyond intellectual curiosity,  like many others I am convinced that we can strengthen and enrich our community by assuring that all can speak, read, and write English. I want to help out with this. And beyond this, I know from experience that public institutions such as CPCC need public support to succeed. That support includes committees that help organize things."


- Betsy Anderson, Communications and Events Volunteer Committee Member


"Once you stop learning, you stop living!"


- Renee Macon, Communications and Events Volunteer Committee Member


"The tutors have really helped the students and attendance in my class is up because they are able to get one-on-one help when I am not able to help them. I have also seen an increase in math scores when they retake there math test after working with the tutors."


-Cynthia Ham, ABE/GED Instructor, North Campus


“It’s so humbling to know that you can step back and touch another human being through something as simple as reading and writing”



- Joey Popp, Volunteer, Harris Campus Foundational Skills Learning Resource Center

“I do it because I know that they (the students) need help.”

- Alan Levin, Volunteer, Central and Harper Campus Foundational Skills Learning Resource Center

“I’m so thankful for the people who are here to help us get our education, because education is so important.”

– Nellie Barbour, Student, Central Foundational Skills Learning Resource Center




Violet K.A native English speaker, Violet Karneh, moved to California from Liberia in 1972.  Violet attended the University of San Francisco for her undergraduate degree and Golden Gate University for her masters degree.  She raised her two sons in the Bay Area While working for Bank of America.  In October 2006 both of her sons were out of the house and Violet was ready to be closer to her siblings.  She transferred her job to the Charlotte location and moved here. 

After 31 years with Bank of America, Violet retired.  At first she thought she would enjoy having an abundance of free time to travel.  After a few months of traveling and staying home she needed something more fulfilling to do with her time.  Violet began working with the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP).  “They had a long list of different places I could volunteer at but my sister works at Central Piedmont Community College and always spoke very highly of the Refugee classes offered.  I knew this was an opportunity that I could help people” Violet explained.  Violet began volunteering
twice a week in March 2011, at St. Andrews Episcopal Church for three to four hours per day helping adult Refugee students learn English.

Violet says, “This experience has been very rewarding for me and the students are so appreciative ofmy help.”  Although Violet’s first language is English, she is able to relate to the transition these students are going through as they become familiar with American culture.  “I have become more aware of what other people might be going through and I see how difficult it can be” she continues.  Violet knows that having someone who is dedicated to helping can make a world of difference for students. 

Thank you Violet for your time and dedication.  You have truly made a difference in students lives!

Jocelyn SikoraIn 2006 Jocelyn Sikora moved to Charlotte from Pittsburg, PA to begin her career at Bank of America. Jocelyn was raised in Chicago, IL. Her mother, a math teacher, instilled a love of math in her from a young age. While studying statistics at Carnegie Melon, she began tutoring math and truly enjoyed the experience. Before she found CPCC’s literacy programs she had a strong urge to help people and even considered setting up a table at the library to offer free literacy tutoring. In January 2010 she jumped on the opportunity to continue her tutoring work at the Central Campus GED Lab.

Jocelyn volunteers because she really enjoys working one on one with people and is always looking for an opportunity to give back to the community. Once a week she comes to the GED lab after a long and sometimes stressful day at work. This gives her an opportunity to help someone learn math and enjoy the subject she has grown up loving.

“Doing this gives me a good perspective of the diversity in Charlotte. I tend to go about my daily life and I know the people in the banking world, and as an avid runner, I know the people in the running community, but I don’t really get a chance to appreciate the diversity of the area. This gives me that opportunity” Jocelyn explains.

A natural teacher, Jocelyn has always loved watching how people learn. She explains, “It’s so rewarding to have a student tell me I explained something to them in a way they have never thought of, and it makes sense!” She enjoys working with the same person as well as new students. “When you work with the same student you can really learn their strengths and weaknesses, therefore you get to learn a little more about them. But, when you work with new student's you get to touch more people”.

David McKinisterAs of October 2009, you can find David McKinster and Jenica Williams working hard together at the Harper Campus ABLE lab. Although they may seem like an unlikely pair, the bond that has developed between David and Jenica is truly something to be desired.

Jenica, who moved from Romania to the United States nine years ago, learned the English language with the help of her husband, television, and reading. She could only understand about 70% of what she was reading she was determined to improve her comprehension. In August 2009, as her son was entering third grade, Jenica realized she could no longer help him with his homework. She knew it was time to make a change and ask for help. Although she felt ashamed that was an adult and she needed this help she put her fears aside, and walked into the Harper ABLE lab. A few short months later she began working with David. “Working with David has changed the entire learning experience for me” Jenica says. She continues, “I have better reading comprehension and my math skills have really improved”.

David has been an active community volunteer for over thirty years, although he has not assisted GED students since the 1980s. “Giving back has always been something I have enjoyed doing. It gives you that warm feeling inside,” David explains. Prior to volunteering with CPCC David tutored children through CMS. Although he enjoyed the experience working with kids, he continued to catch a cold every few weeks. He knew it would be difficult to leave the children, but he also knew he had to take care of himself. David found the CPCC Literacy Program online and shortly after he began his volunteer work here.

According to David, “what distinguishes Jenica from others is that she is all business. She is very serious about her learning, and extremely determined to succeed, and she does all this without loosing a sense of humor. I feel if you compare her work ethic to what the norm is, she is almost in a class by herself in terms of determination and willingness to learn. She could be a role model for other students because her dedication is in a class of its own.” This dedication has made this whole experience extremely rewarding for both David and Jenica. “I know my math and my reading comprehension has significantly improved since I began working with David,” Jenica replies.

The relationship that David and Jenica have developed has moved beyond the classroom. One day Jenica was unable to make it into the lab because her son was home from school. David did not see why this should hinder her studying so he went to her house to tutor her. This was the spark that ignited a true friendship. “Jenica has been kind enough to invite me over for dinner about six times” David says. “We are friends” Jenica adds. Now they often go out to support one another and their families in their different personal endeavors.

“It seems like today you can’t get any career job without your GED and I’m determined to make my career happen” Jenica says. Jenica plans to achieve her GED within the next year and then begin beautician school. Within the next five to ten years she plans on opening her own business. “Getting this GED will put me one step closer to making my dreams a reality!”

Jenica continues, “Without your GED you can’t start any other school and I refuse to let this hold me back from the rest of my life. I will get my GED and one day I will own my own business!” With her drive to succeed and determination to learn we are all excited to watch as David assists Jenica achieve her dream!

Thank you to Jenica and David for your time and dedication! We look forward to watching you grow and learn together!

Jenna Leah SmithJenna Leah Smith was born in Vietnam during the chaos of the Vietnam War. Although she was a healthy child, her mother abandoned her without a legal name at the hospital. Jenna, then known as “Baby Hoi,” was placed in foster care until her foster mother heard about the airlifts that were transporting people to the United States from Saigon. Her foster mother managed to safely get “Baby Hoi” on the first plane, making her the first airlift baby. An American family named her Jenna Leah Smith after her adoption. At 25, Jenna attended a reunion for the “airlift” babies in Washington, D.C. where she met the flight attendant from Pan Am who cared for her on her flight to the United States. As the first “airlift” baby, the media has followed Jenna her whole life while she has continued to work for her success and help those around her.

In August 2009, Jenna was attending school at the University of the Incarnate Word. She was required to complete 45 hours of community service to graduate. Jenna attended a required literacy volunteer orientation and quickly realized that the required service work would have a much larger impact on her life. “I was shocked to hear about our local illiteracy rates and suddenly I was more aware of the people around me. I would observe strangers and wonder about their background. And then, I really wanted to help the community.”

As a corporate trainer in the banking industry she felt comfortable stepping into the classroom as a tutor. Although she has no formal teaching or tutoring experience she explains, “the instructors in the lab were so welcoming and helpful. I knew they were always there to answer questions and provide a comfortable environment.”

By the end of 2009 Jenna had volunteered 107.25 hours. “When I worked with a student and they were willing to try, I knew they needed encouragement from me. Knowing how much the students depended on me is why I became a regular tutor,” Jenna explains.

In 2010 Jenna came on staff as an instructor at the Cato ABLE lab, the very lab she had been volunteering in for so long. “I always knew I enjoyed teaching, and I kind of fell into banking, so when the opportunity presented itself I knew I had to apply. Now I feel so much more fulfilled” Jenna states.
“As a little girl I would play school with my dolls,” Jenna remembers. “Teaching has always been where I should be, up until now, life just kind of happened.”

Thank you Jenna for all the hard work you put in as a volunteer and continues to put in as an instructor. Jenna also said “yes” to her fiance's marriage proposal over the 2010 winter break. Congratulations on your engagement!

Finding Your Purpose

Craig GaffneyCraig Gaffney, a native Charlottean, has been a nuclear medical field service engineer for 35 years, but has always known his passion was teaching. In December 2009, Craig was a victim of the poor economy and was forced out of his job. He took this unexpected life change as an opportunity to begin pursuing his love for teaching and education through his volunteer work. “It’s amazing how, when life makes you jump out of the plane, you have to just pull the parachute and take a chance,” says Craig.

Craig began volunteering as an English as a Second Language (ESL) tutor at both St. Andrews Episcopal Church with our refugee students, and Newell Elementary School with our family focused adult ESL students. Craig’s passion for teaching was hindered by the fact that he did not have his bachelor’s degree. This was not going to stop him from following the path he knew he was meant to walk down. Craig enrolled at Grand Canyon University in their online program and he expects to graduate in 2011 with a degree in secondary education with an emphasis on English.

Craig’s first experience as a literacy volunteer was more than 10 years ago in Charleston, S.C., with the Trident Literacy Association. When family brought him back to Charlotte, he was determined to continue his volunteer work with ESL students. In his search for these opportunities, he came across RSVP, a nonprofit dedicated to helping retired seniors and veterans find volunteer opportunities. RSVP referred Craig to CPCC and the rest is history!

“Volunteering is one of the best things I have ever done. I love every minute of it and I truly believe that my students are learning,” Craig explains. “The most rewarding part of this experience is the relationships that I am able to develop with the students. We all grow together, which creates a win/win situation. I get to help them learn the language and the culture and it provides me with a sense of purpose that I am not able to find anywhere else.”

Even though he has lived in Charlotte and the surrounding areas for his whole life, Craig was still shocked to see the diversity in the Charlotte area. “Forty-five years ago it wasn’t this way. It was a ‘southern city’ with little to no Hispanic/Latino Americans or refugees," Craig explains. “What this experience has taught me is how to connect with human beings in a way I didn’t even know was possible. Doing this work transcends what you think you already know, because you have to go to another level to help these students, since you do not speak the same language. It all comes from thoughts, feelings and ideas, making this a touching human experience,” he says. He realizes it does not matter where you are from. And although he finds it interesting to learn about the cultural differences, he realizes that some things are universal. “It is just so exciting to see students working hard to learn English so they can be better acclimated to their new country!”