Western Arkansas Literacy Council board head talks learning English through organization, inspiration

Nancy Martinez Tejada (center), president of the board of directors at the Literacy Council of Western Arkansas, helps load boxes with husband Roberto Tejada and Executive Director Bente Eriksen on Wednesday at the Literacy Council in downtown Fort Smith. Tejada, a former student of the Literacy Council originally from El Salvador, began her tenure as president of the board in August. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for today's photo gallery.
(River Valley Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
Nancy Martinez Tejada (center), president of the board of directors at the Literacy Council of Western Arkansas, helps load boxes with husband Roberto Tejada and Executive Director Bente Eriksen on Wednesday at the Literacy Council in downtown Fort Smith. Tejada, a former student of the Literacy Council originally from El Salvador, began her tenure as president of the board in August. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for today's photo gallery. (River Valley Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)

FORT SMITH -- One of Nancy Martinez Tejada's goals as board president of the Literacy Council of Western Arkansas is to inspire others in the community.

Originally from El Salvador, Tejada, 35, was a student at the Literacy Council and served on its board before being elected board president in August. She lives in Fort Smith with her husband and two boys and runs her own business.

Tejada said people can do "amazing things" when they learn another language, as she did with English through classes the Literacy Council provided.

"I think what she wants is to make sure other people know that, even though it's hard to start, you can accomplish anything you want to if you just put the work into it and get the help you need," Bente Eriksen, executive director of the Literacy Council, said.

Eriksen said the council, a nonprofit organization, provides tutoring services concerning a variety of subjects. This includes adult basic education, general educational development exam preparation, English as a second language, Spanish, citizenship and drivers education, as well as health, financial and digital literacy.

The council offers the services free of charge to anyone 16 and older, according to the organization's website. New students can enroll at any time, after which they are matched with a volunteer tutor and tutoring sessions -- which are provided either one-on-one or in small groups -- are scheduled based on student needs and availability. The organization started two additional programs last year -- a clothes closet in August and a food pantry in October.

Eriksen said the council not only helps its students through its educational services, but their families and friends by extension. Through its other services, such as the clothes closet and food pantry, Eriksen wants the organization to be known as a community space that will offer any kind of help to anybody who comes in.

"We do not look at if they have a birth certificate, or if they have their status because they are people -- all of them -- and all of them need help," Eriksen said. "Many of the places people turn to say, 'Yeah, yeah, we will help you,' but it stops there. We want to be the place that actually can help."

Tejada said she started taking one-hour classes twice a week on reading, writing and speaking English with a personal tutor at the Literacy Council in 2013. Prior to this, she received a general educational development certification through the Crawford County Adult Education Center in Van Buren in 2009 and a high school diploma in El Salvador.

Tejada was motivated to take the classes by her desire to get a better job and have full conversations with different types of people. She said although she knew a little English at the time, she was afraid to a certain extent due to her accent.

"That's one of the biggest fears that many people like us have," Tejada said.

Tejada continued her education through the organization for almost a year. She said the classes she took allowed her to learn a language and lose her fears to the point she was able to start her business in January 2018 -- Avanty Multiservice at 2231 Midland Blvd. She offers services as a notary public, insurance agent and tax preparer, working mostly with the Hispanic community in the River Valley.

Eriksen said Tejada began serving on the Literacy Council's board about three years ago.

"I wanted to return something of what I was given," Tejada said.

Eriksen said Tejada is doing very well as president of the board after her fellow board members voted her into this position. As a former student of the Literacy Council, Tejada knows what the organization is doing and can do to help people. She also has a remarkable outreach to the Hispanic community.

"Having a former student sitting on the board is wonderful," Eriksen said. "I have former volunteers, I have former tutors sitting on the board, but having a student on the board, she is why we're here, and she can tell everybody why we're here and that's priceless."

Eriksen said Tejada leads by example, working to personally address needs of the Literacy Council as they come up. She credits Tejada as one of the primary instigators for the creation of the organization's food pantry late last year.

100 people were enrolled in the Literacy Council's classes in total as of Thursday, according to Eriksen.

  photo  Nancy Martinez Tejada, president of the board of directors at the Literacy Council of Western Arkansas, views drawings submitted for a bookmark contest Wednesday at the Literacy Council in downtown Fort Smith. Tejada, a former student of the Literacy Council originally from El Salvador, began her tenure as president of the board in August. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for today's photo gallery. (River Valley Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
 
 
  photo  Nancy Martinez Tejada, president of the board of directors at the Literacy Council of Western Arkansas, stands near the entrance Wednesday at the Literacy Council in downtown Fort Smith. Tejada, a former student of the Literacy Council originally from El Salvador, began her tenure as president of the board in August. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for today's photo gallery. (River Valley Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
 
 
  photo  Nancy Martinez Tejada, president of the board at the Literacy Council of Western Arkansas, stands near the entrance Wednesday at the Literacy Council in downtown Fort Smith. Tejada, a former student of the Literacy Council originally from El Salvador, began her tenure as president of the board in August. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for today's photo gallery. (River Valley Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
 
 

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