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St. John's woman proud of being able to 'improve' herself with help of Stella's Circle ABE program

Adult Basic Education instructor Jessica Lee-Middleman (left) is helping Robyn McCarthy  obtain the education she craves in order to gain more independence in her life.
Adult Basic Education instructor Jessica Lee-Middleman (left) is helping Robyn McCarthy obtain the education she craves in order to gain more independence in her life. - Andrew Robinson

Seasonal "Light Up Hope" fundraiser stresses importance of hope

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Robyn McCarthy of St. John's wants to do lots of things that others may take for granted.

"I want to be able to text with people, and I want to be able to read my own emails and messages and understand mail when I open it," said McCarthy, who is deaf and spoke with The Telegram through the assistance of an interpreter. "I don't want to have to ask somebody else to help me read my mail, and when I get a job I want to be able to write notes back and forth with my boss and my new coworkers."

McCarthy is taking steps toward achieving that goal as a participant in adult basic education (ABE) through Stella's Circle, a St. John's non-profit organization that assists people facing barriers such as mental illness, addiction, poverty, homelessness, criminal justice involvement or lengthy periods of unemployment. Stella's Circle is presently gearing up for its annual Light Up Hope celebration on Tuesday, Dec. 3.

"She's come such a long way in a short amount of time. We have great expectations for her." — Jessica Lee-Middleman, Stella's Circle ABE instructor

A former student at the Newfoundland School for the Deaf, which closed in 2010, McCarthy did not learn to read or write in grade school. As an adult, McCarthy knew she wanted to change that. Her brother, Trevor,  encouraged McCarthy to give the ABE program a chance at Stella's Circle. Reliant on social assistance in order to survive, McCarthy doesn't want to remain in those circumstances for the rest of her life.

"I'm really glad to be in here going to school," said McCarthy, who started ABE in the fall. "It's been really positive. I've been doing really good and learning a lot and really enjoying being able to work on English all the time, and I'm really enjoying being able to socialize and meet people. The students and everybody are really friendly and really great to chat with ... and the students said they're interested in learning some sign language, too, so I'm excited to teach them some signs."

Jessica Lee-Middleman, an instructor with the ABE program at Stella's Circle, said it recognizes the fact there are many reasons why school did not work for participants in the past. With that in mind, the program steers clear of a one-size-fits-all approach and instead strives to be flexible for each student.

"Students come in and they start wherever they are," Lee-Middleman said. "They don't need to go over things that they don't know. They are self-paced, so they can take as much time as they need to learn different topics, and I have a wide range of resources. So, if somebody needs to do one page of math to get a topic, awesome. If somebody needs to do 20 pages of math to get the same topic, awesome."

How to donate to Stella's Circle for Light Up Hope
• Text "LightUpHope" to 20222
• Online at
• Call 709-738-8540

Regular schedule

McCarthy goes to school each weekday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and has a sign language interpreter assisting her at all times. She intends to eventually continue with ABE at the Murphy Centre in St. John's to get her high school diploma. Beyond advancing her education and obtaining skills she can one day put to use in a job setting, pursuing ABE has increased her sense of pride.

"I have to say that coming here, I'm feeling more proud of myself," she said. "I'm just so excited that I've been able to work so hard and I've been able to definitely improve myself, and my teacher is really good."

According to her instructor, there is a strong sense of community within the group and lots of diversity, with the age of students ranging from 25 to 65. 

"We have new Canadians. We have people like Robyn who come with an identified exceptionality, and we have people who are coming because they have grandkids and they want to be able to read to them," Lee-Middleman said. "And it always surprises me — it doesn't matter who we have, they all pull together to make a community. It doesn't matter, their differences. They all find the common ground and they do really become a close group."

McCarthy has really impressed her instructor.

"We're so proud of Robyn," Lee-Middleman said. "She's come such a long way in a short amount of time. We have great expectations for her."

The Stella's Circle ABE program started in 2005 and serves approximately 20 students each year, Lee-Middleman said.

Tuesday's Light Up Hope event will be held from 6-7 p.m. at the Rawlins Cross Stella's Circle location, where one of five HOPE signs will be illuminated with lights. The free family-friendly event will feature jugglers, horses from the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, an instant choir with Julia Halfyard and more music from DJ Slim Macho. Hungry Heart Cafe will serve hot chocolate and cookies. 

Bluedrop Learning Networks will match donations made to Stella's Circle as part of the Light Up Hope celebration, to a total of $5,000.

Twitter: @CBNAndrew


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