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and encourages me.” Epperson has seen Pratt’s self-confidence grow as she goes

through the lessons. Each week, Pratt learns more, and the two have become trusted friends. “We have forged a friendship,” Epperson said. “Our relationship

started with reading, but it has grown so much deeper. She’s family. “We come from different upbringings, but at our core we

are no different. Teaching Jerutha to read has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done because for her, it’s not just learning a new word, but changing her life.” Pratt worked hard, studying six days a week. She began with small words. Then she put words together to create sentences. Eventually, the words and sentences got longer. By then, Pratt gained confidence and improved daily.

When she struggles, she’s encour- aged by the memory of her younger brother, who died in 2000. Late in life, he told her, “There’s one thing I truly hate: I did not stay in school. I sit here and I hold the newspaper and I don’t know more than one or two words in it.” Pratt honors her brother by doing what he wished he could do. Now in the middle of book two, she comfortably reads complex sentences and words. Occasionally she stumbles, but no more than most people reading aloud. Her ability grows with each class, as does her determination. “I don’t know how many books there are, but I’m going to sit through all of them,” she said. “I’m going to keep going until my teacher says, ‘Jerutha, that’s your last book.’ I’m going to say, ‘Hallelujah!’”

“Better than prime rib” Quite simply, the ability to read has made a difference in Pratt’s

life every day. As with each person it serves, the Hope Center empowered Pratt to address a significant issue in her life, there- by transforming her life. Recently, she walked into a store and saw a sign hanging from the ceiling. A smile burst from her cheeks. For the first time, she was

able to read and understand it. When her social security check and explanation of benefits came, she could read every word but one – and not even her daughter knew what that word was. “This school means way more to me than prime rib,” she said. “And there’s nothing like a prime rib. There’s no earthly thing better to me than this school. This schooling has been one of the most joyful, blessed things in my life.” Williams is inspired by Pratt’s commitment to learning. “I believe Mrs. Pratt has been more of a joy to us than we have been a help to her,” Williams said. “I have never seen such per- severance and determination from a student here. She is always on time and ready to work when she arrives. From the first day I met her, she has been serious about learning how to read, specifically her Bible. Her reading skills have so improved that she has been able to teach others.” Pratt’s ability to read has made her more confident in what she believes. She delves into the Bible daily, enjoy- ing the ability to take in the Word on her own. Reading has helped her grow spiritually, as well as share the gospel when she goes door-to-door visiting people.

And that class Pratt used to show up late for so she didn’t have to read? The one where she’d slouch in the corner hoping no one would call on her? It’s a little different as well:

“My mouth is the only one running in there now,” she said. “I

tell you, I talk so much because I can read a whole line; I can read a whole sentence.”

During choir practice last week, her church asked if she would sing a song by herself during the service. Pratt was happy to. Then the choir director handed her a notebook with the music and lyrics to the song, and her nerves stood on edge. Dots danced on the page like a code she needed to break.

“I looked at the paper and put it down. I said, ‘Lord, here we go.’ I raised my head and looked at the paper. I didn’t have to ask a question about a single word. I knew them. That made me feel good.” n

18 Buckner Today • SUMMER 2015 ISSUE

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