News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 6, 2012

GED program catalyst for self-improvement

Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Life didn't get off to the best start for Crystal Maners. The 26-year-old Terre Haute resident says she was sort of like an orphan growing up. Her mom was in and out of her life, as was her dad. “My extended family sort of took turns raising me,” she said. She moved from place to place.

As a teen Crystal struggled with mental health issues stemming from her past which took years to get under control. In her late teen years, she moved in with her aunt in Brazil. At the high school there she was told that she would not be able to graduate until she was 21. She didn’t want to wait that long, so she decided it best to quit school, start working to support herself, and, at the same time, study for her high school General Equivalency Diploma (GED).

But it didn’t quite work out that way.

“I was not stable enough at the time to hold down a job and continue to study,” she said.

Several years later Crystal started working toward her GED again while in rehab from drugs and alcohol. But when she moved on from rehab she did not have a car and was not able to continue with classes.

Crystal’s life marched on. She entered a serious relationship and began raising two stepchildren and, as the years progressed, a child of her own. But as a stay-at-home mom without a car available, attaining a GED was still elusive.

Nine years after dropping out of school, a new opportunity presented itself. Her boyfriend’s mother told her about the GED preparation offered at Educational/Family Services in West Terre Haute. At the time Crystal was living in West Terre Haute, and her “mother-in-law” offered to pick her up and bring her to EFS.

Educational/Family Services, located at 3850 U.S. Highway 150, right outside St. Mary-of-the-Woods grounds, provides free basic education and GED instruction for adults and free after-school tutoring for children. EFS is a program of Guerin Outreach Ministries and a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of Providence on St. Mary-of-the-Woods.

For the next four months, Crystal studied at EFS twice a week with her tutor, director Penny Sullivan.

“When I started Penny said it would probably take a year and a half to get my GED. But I tested out in four months. Penny was great at teaching,” Crystal said.

Crystal was one of four EFS students to have passed the GED in the past year.

Crystal said language has always been her strength, but she struggled at math. When she first took the locater test she tested at a 7th grade level for math. Yet when she took the GED test last August after four months of study, she not only passed but excelled.

“The lowest you can get in math and still pass is 410, and I got 690 in math. I blew through it,” Crystal said. “Penny had a gift for teaching it and making it make sense. She could tell if I didn’t get something the first time and would tell me again or in a different way,” Crystal said.

“I love Penny.  I could be having the worst day, and before I even got started, she would ask what was wrong and keep asking until she got me to talk about it. She really truly cared,” Crystal said.

Currently 15 adults are studying at Educational/Family Services. Two are working on basic literacy, one is studying for the Army’s ASVAB entrance test and the rest are working toward GEDs. The students range in age from 16 to 65. In addition approximately 30 children receive after-school tutoring.

 “We have changed several lives. With the children, we help them get where they need to be. With the adults, it is great to see the light bulbs come on. Many of the kids come from low-income families. We see lots of illiteracy: parents who can’t help their kids with homework because they can’t read. It is important that we can help them, because the parents cannot. There is so much joy and togetherness with the people we are working with,” Penny said.

“They are wonderful, wonderful people. If it hadn’t been for the compassion that Penny and Randi [Everett] had for me, I don’t think I could have finished. They give you the strength to finish. They truly love and care about the people who come there. They go above and beyond the call of their jobs.” Crystal said.

“When someone gets their GED, they are becoming part of the majority and not the minority. It does make a difference in their lives because it opens up employment opportunities. A GED is vital for employment. You have to have an education to go anywhere in today’s society,” Penny said.

Another EFS student who recently passed his GED found this to be true. Twenty-year-old Jake Brock had struggled to find work without a high school diploma.

“It was really hard to find a job,” Jake said. He had detassled corn and worked at a tire store for a while, but he found he needed a GED to move on in life.

Jake said studying at EFS gave him confidence that he was ready to take the test. At EFS he worked with Penny through assessment tests twice a week for four weeks and found he was ready to take the GED.

Both Jake and Crystal attended the GED graduation this past May 16 in the Woodrow Wilson School auditorium.

“My tutor Ms. Penny egged me on about going to the graduation and really wanted to see me there,” Jake said. So, though he had been staying in Florida for about three months prior, he came back to attend the graduation.

Jake is now looking into classes at Ivy Tech. He’s interested in studying business or possibly photo journalism.

Crystal is also planning to start fall classes at Ivy Tech. She has enjoyed helping elderly neighbors in the past, so she is considering work as a home health aide.

For Crystal, life has gotten not just an academic boost, but a morale boost as well.

“I feel I’ve always half-done everything my whole life. But I finally completed something. A lot of people take high school education for granted. It’s nice to know I did something right,” Crystal said.

For more information about services offered at Educational/Family Services or to find out how you can help make a difference, call 812-535-4206 or visit