When Troy Wilkins was just four years old, instructors at the summer camp he was attending were certain he’d never learn to read. Luckily, he was paired with KOREH L.A. volunteer and long-time Federation leader Inez Gelfand in 2000—a partnership that would ultimately change both of their lives.
KOREH L.A. is our Federation’s volunteer-based literacy program, addressing the literacy crisis and resulting achievement gap in our local public schools. Inez herself had trouble reading when she was young, so when she was invited to be on the committee at the time KOREH L.A. was being formed, she jumped at the chance. “I thought it would be wonderful to volunteer to help students overcome their learning difficulties,” she says.
When Inez met Troy, all he wanted to do was play ball. “He would sit there with a book and pretend to read,” she recalls. But week by week, Troy’s no-nonsense reading partner taught him to sound out the letters and opened up a whole new world for him. Troy went from not being able to read at all to scoring in the top 90th percentile on the Stanford reading test, and soon even lost interest in sports. All he wanted to do was read.
Around the time Troy reached the third grade, he asked Inez to bring him a copy of the Sunday Los Angeles Times. She separated all of the sections out on a table and left it up to him to choose which he wanted to read, thinking perhaps he would pick the Sports section. Surprisingly, Troy selected the Business section—and read the whole thing. Inez noted that Troy’s inquisitive nature took over and he became very engaged in the subject, asking her question after question about bankruptcy and economics to make sure he understood what each of the words and concepts meant.
Impassioned by the progress Troy was making, Inez continued to meet with him even outside of KOREH L.A., helping him further develop his skills in reading comprehension and math. She’d make him flash cards, they’d count pennies, and he gained a great deal of confidence. By fourth grade, Troy was excelling so much in school, he sent Inez a copy of his report card—and the boy who some believed would amount to nothing had received straight A’s.
After four years, Troy had outgrown Inez’s help through KOREH L.A., but their friendship continued. He sent her a photo of his cap and gown when he graduated from junior high, and was proud to show her his grades from his first semester of high school. The two kept in touch by phone and e-mail, and Troy invited Inez to his home to celebrate his graduation and help him prepare for Grad Night. As she watched him smooth out his tuxedo and took photos of him and his date, Inez couldn’t have been prouder of the boy she’d once met who couldn’t read.
Troy Wilkins is now in his second year at Cal State Northridge and recently shared with Inez that he’d chosen a major: Accounting.
And to think—they would never have met if it were not for KOREH L.A.! Inez and Troy’s pairing as reading partners was just the beginning of a relationship that resulted in so much more than the ability to read—it gave a child the ability to succeed in life. Inez truly exemplifies how even the smallest act of tzedakah, just an hour or two each week of embodying the Jewish values we all hold dear, can add up and change a life forever.
Over the past 14 years, the Federation has trained and placed over 15,000 volunteers as reading partners, reaching nearly 20,000 LAUSD students. For more information on KOREH L.A., click here or contact us at (323) 761-8153 or Literacy@JewishLA.org.
KOREH L.A. is a program of The Jewish Federation’s Community Engagement Initiative, which builds a strong Jewish community that advocates for Israel and works to shape a better Los Angeles