culture of giving

Adults breaking the cycle: Ascend Center for Learning aims to ease the struggle

Adults breaking the cycle: Ascend Center for Learning aims to ease the struggle

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Students posing with their GED certificates. Photo by Maggie Whitley
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GED students hard at work in the classroom. Photo by Maggie Whitley
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Students prepping for the graduation ceremony. Photo by Maggie Whitley
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Students being recognized at graduation. Photo by Maggie Whitley
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As a single mom, Leanna Kapahu had three kids and two nephews depending on her income as a receptionist. Yet two months ago, she gave it up entirely.

It made this Christmas a tough one. But Leanna is hoping it will allow next year’s to be different. With gas cards and her testing paid for, the 29-year-old is going full-time to the Ascend Center for Learning to study for her GED.

“I’ve struggled my whole life,” says Kapahu, who dropped out to raise her nephews years ago when no one else would take them. “I’m tired of struggling. I want to be able to provide for my kids — open up accounts for them.”

From its bright classrooms on East Second Street, the Ascend Center allows adults like Kapahu to come full- or part-time in the mornings or evenings each day. They study for the five subject area tests that make up the GED with professional teachers and trained volunteers. They learn to type faster and get certified in computer skills like Excel and Word, too.

Participants also meet with special advisors who make sure they know about college and the different career possibilities out there. Through her participant support specialist, Kapahu hatched her goal of becoming a surgical technician. Once she finishes the fifth of the GED exams in January, she will have taken an important first step.

Ascend, founded in 1994 as the Austin Academy, serves about 250 students a year. They represent a much-needed niche the city needs to serve, operations director Becky Rhodes says. While helping children may receive more public sympathy, many adults faced tough circumstances back when they dropped out. Through their second chance, they can they better serve their families and society.

Just as importantly, by studying for the GED, they model the value of education and discipline for their kids, who become far less likely to drop out later. “It’s great to help kids,” Rhodes says, “but if you help the parents you can break that cycle.”

The Ascend Center seeks regular, committed volunteers; up-to-date computer equipment; community and organizational partners; and monetary donations. Visit the organization's website for more opportunities.