For 20 years, Bradenton nonprofit has been shining the 'light'

vmannix@bradenton.comMarch 5, 2014 Updated 21 hours ago

BRADENTON

Anne Enyart started the sentence for the student Tuesday morning at Project Light.

"I will be ... " the teacher said, prompting the pupil.

"I ... will be ... " Marie King repeated haltingly, before stopping.

"Let's make it simple," Enyart said, gently. "I will be older ... tomorrow."

"I will be older tomorrow," the student said.

"Exactly!" her teacher said, approvingly.

The Haitian native and mother who works the overnight shift at an area Walmart fairly beamed.

It was another small step for one of 100-plus adults from the Caribbean, Latin America and Eastern Europe who are trying to learn English as well as acquire math and computer skills at the literacy center on 14th Street West.

Their advances and those achieved by the nonprofit founded by Sister Nora Brick will be observed at a community open house from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday at the center, 1104 14th St. W.

The event will celebrate Project Light's ownership of the center thanks to generous donors who helped pay off its mortgage.

It was 20 years ago this September that Sister Nora, now retired, started Project Light in a single room at Our Daily Bread, the former soup kitchen on 14th Street West. The center moved into its own building in 2001.

"We're very proud at what we've been able to achieve," said Luz Corcuera, Project Light board chairwoman and director of the Healthy Start Coalition of Manatee County. "Students from all backgrounds have come here and eventually moved onto college or different careers. It's all about getting a better job instead of having to work two or three at a time."

Something else Corcuera is proud of is the fact Project Light has never received any governmental assistance. Staffed by volunteers, its funding has come entirely from grants and private donations.

"The monetary gifts from former students mean so much," she said.

Project Light's classes are now broken down into four grades -- foundation and levels 1-2-3 -- overseen by Rachel Quirk, who was hired last November as program coordinator, the center's lone employee.

"There's still a lot of room for improvement, but it's getting better," said the career educator. "My biggest joy is seeing the students learn and their appreciation of the program."

Students such as America Rodriguez, a native of Guatemala.

Now in her third year at Project Light, the mother of a special-needs child has made great strides, according to her teacher.

"I've tried to improve my English and being here has really helped," Rodriguez said. "When I speak to the doctor about my son, I don't need a translator."

"She couldn't speak any English when she began," Linda Dias said. "She has come so far it's wonderful."

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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