Hurricane devastates man’s homeland, Carolina literacy program preps him for college

Almost a year later, he’s completed the program and is enrolled at CPCC

Hurricane devastates man’s homeland, Carolina literacy program preps him for college

A 38-year-old Indian Trail resident moved with his wife and 16-year-old daughter to the area almost two years ago after hurricanes devastated his native islands.

Dion Rymer didn’t know how his family—both locally and those still in the British Virgin Islands—would react when they found out he enrolled in Common Heart’s adult literacy program to improve his reading and writing skills. He describes their reactions in two words: “Very proud.”

He was working full-time to support his family, but still had a dream to go to college and prepare for a career in information technology.

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An online search led him to Common Heart Literacy Volunteers.

Now, almost a year later, he’s completed the program and is enrolled at Central Piedmont Community College, taking the first steps toward the career he wants.

Common Heart received a $5,000 grant from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation. The grant is part of more than $8.6 million awarded to more than 950 schools, nonprofits and other organizations in communities where Dollar General Stores are found.

Rymer’s success story is a true highlight for the Literacy Volunteers program which allowed him to set and then achieve reachable goals.

It wasn’t until Rymer met his volunteer tutor, Karen Leadermen, that they realized they lived in the same Indian Trail neighborhood, and even used the same gym, making it easy to schedule their sessions. Sometimes they even met in the neighborhood clubhouse.

The two have become “good friends,” Rymer said.

Leadermen calls it a “magical match.”

She said her first task was to show Rymer that he could learn, and learn well.

“In my approach, it was really important for me to take into consideration his age, his family status, his diversity that he comes to the table with, and his goals as an individual,” Leadermen said. “Dion came with some insecurities about where he wanted to be as an adult male to represent himself, his extended family and the way he communicated. Some of the process was helping him develop some assertiveness and the ability to explain his needs and desires. He really did not have a cognitive understanding of his skills. I would tell him ‘Dion, you’re blowing me away,’ and he would not believe me.”

Rymer quickly improved his skills. Tutor and pupil ended each session reviewing what they had accomplished that day.

“We started with just the basics as I was building self-confidence,” he said. “Karen would say, ‘Don’t get flustered. It’s just a process.’ She basically explained to me I have a lot of raw talent, I just need someone to basically clean it up. She kept telling me ‘you’re smart, you’re smart, you’re smart.’ She just kept putting that energy in me, and after a while, I started to feel that energy and see that energy. I started to believe in myself.”

Leadermen’s encouragement was key to completing the program, Rymer said, and he’s glad to have found a friend to help navigate his first college experience.

“When I have Karen there, I think I’ll make it through,” he said. “She just always has the right words to say to keep me going.”

Rymer has some encouraging words for other Union County adults who want to improve their English reading and writing skills.

“It’s never too late,” he said. “You just have to take that first step. It’s going to be scary, but you just have to do it.”

Founded in 2006, Common Heart works to create a “small revolution of kindness” in the community to eradicate food insecurity and eliminate generational poverty.

If you have an inspiring story to share, email Kevin Campbell, WSOC-TV/WAXN-TV/Telemundo Charlotte public affairs manager, at