JOE DISTELHEIM AWARD RECOGNIZES LITERACY STUDENTS
BY AMY COYNE BREDESON
Throughout his 38 years in journalism, Joe Distelheim was a mentor to many. After retiring from his position as editor of The Huntsville (Ala.) Times, he and his wife, Dottie, moved to Hilton Head Island, where Joe continued to impact lives.
Distelheim spent more than 10 years volunteering at The Literacy Center, where he taught English as a Second Language classes and tutored students.
In December 2020 Joe died at the age of 78, but his impact will live on through a charitable fund of the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry. The fund provides money for an award given in Joe’s honor.
After Joe’s death, his former colleagues established the Joe Distelheim Award for Literacy, which is given annually to four literacy students of Bluffton Self Help, which The Literacy Center merged with in 2021.
The first recipients of the award were nominated by volunteer tutors at Bluffton Self Help.
Zohra Tebbakh spoke Arabic and French when she moved to the United States from Morocco. Now she is well on her way to speaking English fluently.
Tebbakh has participated in two semesters of ESL classes at Bluffton Self Help’s Hardeeville location. Tebbakh is so dedicated to learning English that she rode a bicycle to class for months, sometimes in the rain. Her husband recently bought her a motor scooter to make the commute a little easier. Tebbakh works as a cashier at Piggly Wiggly in Hardeeville. She plans to continue the ESL classes, earn a GED, become a United States citizen and find a career she loves.
“She has the drive, passion and skills to accomplish all these goals,” her tutors, Jackie DeCecco and Kathy Stutesman, wrote in their nomination. “She is always friendly, on time, and willing to help in any way she is able.”
Maria Medina was a nurse in Puerto Rico before moving to Bluffton three years ago.
She started taking ESL classes at Bluffton Self Help so she could work locally as a nurse and be able to help her children with school.
Medina’s tutors, Mary Lee Stephens and Jeff Fahrner, said she has had to work hard to overcome challenges at home. Medina and her husband have three children, two with special needs. They also have her two adult brothers living with them.
“With her steadfast determination, great work ethic, and quiet, low key but friendly presence, we are sure Maria will continue to improve her English and find fulfilling work here in the United States,” her tutors wrote.
Kathia Salinas moved to Bluffton in 2019 from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where she worked in dentistry. Now she cleans houses for a living.
In order to find a local job in dentistry, Salinas knows she needs to learn English. She also wants to learn the language because her boyfriend and his family speak English.
Salinas started taking ESL classes at Bluffton Self Help last year. Her literacy tutor, Marlene Cathcart, said Salinas has always been eager to learn and to help other students. “She also encouraged the other students to try and use English more often,” Cathcart said. During the holidays, Salinas collected toys for an orphanage in Honduras. Salinas hopes to find a job as a dental hygienist, dental assistant or receptionist in a dental clinic.
In February 2020, Gerardo Rivera moved to the U.S. from the Venezuelan town of Araure. He now lives in Bluffton with his wife, Carolina, and their three children. Before moving to the U.S., Rivera owned a printing company. He now works as an electrician for Lighthouse Electric Service.
In 2021, Rivera took a beginner-level ESL class with tutor Carolyn McClurg at Bluffton Self Help. McClurg said he never missed class, even when he worked late, and he often drove to class from Beaufort. McClurg said Rivera practices speaking English any chance he gets, using Duolingo to practice before work in the morning.
“It was my pleasure to have Gerardo in class and to witness his continual progress,” McClurg wrote in her nomination. “I am confident that he will master the English language and is definitely ready to go to the next level.”