Laubach Literacy Program ~ Bill Maes Story. #WATWB

The #WATWB was created as a mission to negate the overwhelming negativity that has been present in our social media streams. For every negative news story in the world, there are plenty of positive, uplifting stories that show hope, compassion and the resiliency of everyday people who face insurmountable challenges. Our hope is to share heartwarming stories that lift the human spirit.
The last Friday of every month bloggers will share their stories led by five co-hosts, this month’s co-hosts are ~Shilpa GargMary Giese, Guilie Castillo, Belinda Witzenhausen and myself.


In previous posts, I  mentioned that tutoring through the Laubach Literacy program was the most satisfying volunteering I had ever done. The success stories of my students had a happy ending just like Bill’s below.

Maes writing a new chapter in life

The 78-year-old Alliston, Ontario man spent most of his days unable to read books, peruse the newspaper to catch up on current events, or write letters to his family.
Bill Maes grew up on a tobacco farm in a small town in southwestern Ontario, where helping his parents with the crops took priority over getting an education.

When Bill was around 12 years old his family moved to a farm in Alliston. He spent a few weeks in school before giving it up. While he could get a good grasp on some subjects like math, reading and writing never clicked for him.

A few years later, his family moved to Mansfield, and Maes just carried on helping around the farm. When his father died suddenly, his presence on the farm became even more important, ruling out the possibility of ever going back to school. Not being able to read and write limited him in many ways, but he was able to get by with help from family and friends.

When Bill returned to Alliston about three years ago, he decided it was time to learn to read and write. A friend told him about the Next Step Literacy Council of South Simcoe, but it took courage to overcome his apprehension of asking for help.
He was set up with a private tutor, John Rosenthal, who meets with him two hours a week.

“He works really hard and he’s done everything basically on his own, which is terrific,” Rosenthal said. “I give him some guidance and he goes home and he reads and reads.”

Since Bill started lessons two years ago, he has mastered the alphabet, read about 40 books and has started writing about his life in journals. He is also learning to use the computer so he can send emails to family and friends.

“If it was not for John and the rest of the good people around here, I would have turned around the first day,” Maes said.

For Bill, the most satisfying moment of learning to read and write came after sending his daughter a birthday card. He wrote the address,  signed it and wrote a small poem inside.  She called him crying, and when asked what was wrong?  she replied saying she was so happy because he had never sent her a card before that he wrote himself.

Bill Maes was presented with the Arnie Stewart Award for Individual Achievement at Laubach Literacy Ontario’s annual conference held recently in London, Ontario.

“I never believed I would ever win something like this in my lifetime. Bill said. “You don’t know how good it feels to finally be able to do something you couldn’t do your entire life.”

Bill’s story was initially published on simcoe.com: https://www.simcoe.com/news-story/6705734-alliston-man-learning-to-read-and-write-at-78/

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9 thoughts on “Laubach Literacy Program ~ Bill Maes Story. #WATWB

  1. This is an amazing story! Indeed, what an achievement for this man to push himself to do this… The bit about his daughter had me choking up a little 🙂 These are incredible initiatives, and it’s fantastic that you’ve been able to participate yourself. Kudos, Sylvia!
    Guilie @ Quiet Laughter (October co-host)

  2. hilarymb

    Hi Sylvia – what a lovely story … and how wonderful Bill is able to continue on with his dream of reading and thus writing too – his memoirs will be so interesting. Lovely ‘warm’ note on how proud his daughter felt that her father had actually written and posted the birthday card to her. Inspiring for many … cheers Hilary
    My WAWTB will go up on Tuesday …

  3. It is interesting the way life twists and turns until it finds a way to take us on an adventure we never would have dreamed of in our younger days. I hope others who have never learned to read or write will hear about this story and know that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Thanks for sharing and for being a part of #WATWB

  4. What a wonderful story. Kudos to him for pursuing this – it takes courage and determination. But what a lovely reward I’m sure he felt with his daughter’s response. And kudos of course to the Laubach Literacy program, as well as others helping open new worlds to people.

  5. Emily Bloomquist

    I can’t imagine living a life without the ability to read and write. So good of you to have taught these critical skills. How wonderful that Bill has learned them. It must have expanded his world in innumerable ways. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story, Sylvia, and for co-hosting WATWB this month.

  6. Thanks Sylvia for this amazing story! Bill Maes at age 78 learning to read and write! So wonderful that the Laurbach Literacy Program assisted him so ably. The story of his daughter crying because of saying it was the first time ever she’s received a handwritten birthday card from him melted my heart muchly … a new chapter in his life – and kudos to you for being part of this wonderful iniative.

  7. I can’t imagine not being able to read, but it makes my heart so happy to know that Bill didn’t think it was too late for him. If I were his daughter, I would have cried with joy, too. What a beautiful gift she now has in her possession.

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