Written by Anthony Garzilli
Joe Distelheim’s journalism career spanned 38 years and five states. The former Hilton Head Island resident, who spent 10 years volunteering at The Literacy Center, left a legacy that his colleagues wanted to honor. They decided to recognize literacy students of Bluffton Self Help, which merged with The Literacy Center in 2021, with the Joe Distelheim Award for Literacy.
The inaugural winners were recognized last year. This year’s winners, who each received $500 and an engraved platter, were nominated by volunteer tutors at Bluffton Self Help.
“A recurring theme was how these learners of English were not only high achievers but cheerfully aided others in the class — and helped the tutors as well,” noted committee member Alex Cruden. “They had excellent attendance records while at the same time fulfilling job and family responsibilities and otherwise leaping life’s hurdles.”
Andrea Ordonez set herself apart by showing great determination and dedication to learning the English language, according to her tutor Marcia Patton.
Ordonez, who works at Flowers by Sue on the island, proved to be a peer instructor, clarifier, and role model. Her helpful nature includes providing detailed instructions to her classmates on new concepts and group activities.
“I occasionally notice the other students look to her when they begin to answer to ensure they are understanding and responding appropriately,” Patton wrote in her nomination. “A smile or nod of her head encourages them to proceed.”
Patton wrote that Ordonez exemplified Distelheim’s belief that education is a “gateway to success and an opportunity for her to achieve her future goals.”
Gabriela Melendez immigrated from Honduras to the United States in 2021 with her son, who at the time was 4 years old. Melendez wanted to learn English because her son had experienced some health issues, according to her tutors Sue Summers and Ann Kummer. She was determined to learn English to better interact with healthcare providers so she could help her son. Melendez advanced quickly and easily through the text. She took her Level 1 post-test, and as her tutors expected, she scored into Level 2.
“In class, she is always inquisitive, engaged, enthusiastic, hardworking, and eager to learn English,” the tutors wrote. “Her attendance was excellent, and she showed complete attention throughout each class.”
Federico Méndez Ramírez
Federico Mendez was lauded for being an enthusiastic student who could always be counted on to participate in class activities and finish his assignments.
“It is obvious that he wants to learn because he asks questions when he does not understand something and makes sure that we check his work,” wrote his tutors Mary Bernard and Kimberly Hagenbach.
Mendez has an early morning job working at a golf course, but always appears “energetic and happy to learn” as much English as he can during class.
During the last day of class, students played a game modeled after Jeopardy! There were pictures and words for the 50 questions. Mendez won the gold medal.
Juan Carlos Mujica
Juan Carlos Mujica, who was looked to as a leader in class, studied English independently. The combination of in-class work and independent study was reflected in his “ability, confidence, and willingness to help other students” better understand the lessons, wrote tutor Joel Biterman.
Mujica showed consistent improvement in comprehension and written and verbal competence since the beginning of the school year. He was recognized for always being on time or early for class.
“Juan Carlos is intellectually curious and is constantly seeking to improve his English language skills,” Biterman wrote.