Editor's Note: For many charitable organizations, the holiday season, like the rest of the year, is a time to connect people in need to solutions to some of life's toughest problems. It's also a great time to look out for your neighbors. That's why, in the week leading up to Christmas, we're using our "A Christmas Wish" series to showcase community members whose lives have been enriched by the work of United Way of Central Missouri partner agencies and, by extension, generous community members.
Alan Stoutz, 62, wants to be more computer-literate.
ABLE — the Adult Basic Literary Education program which has served Jefferson City since 1985 — has been helping him learn those skills.
"I want to be able to do emails and stuff on the computer and shop on the internet," Stoutz explained last week. "I just never got exposed to that."
With his growing ability, Stoutz this year generated a holiday letter detailing some of this year's big events in his life — including a July heart attack, being hit by a car in a crosswalk in October and a cash prize last summer for a photo he'd entered in an art show.
Stoutz moved to Jefferson City from Hannibal in 2014 and began learning at ABLE shortly after coming to Mid-Missouri.
He earned a bachelor's degree in general studies from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1984 after attending as a part-time student for about a decade.
"My program combined speech, communication, biology, photography and sociology," he explained, "to illustrate and communicate ecological problems and solutions — and translate that into laymen's terms."
But, he acknowledged, "there's not a lot of call for that," and he currently is a part-time, weekend dishwasher at Schulte's Fresh Foods bakery.
He can walk there from the nearby residential care facility where he lives, he said.
ABLE also helped him get some training through a State Technical College class last year.
Stoutz hopes to develop the computer skills needed "to be able to type papers for college and get a master's degree — probably something in psychology or counseling."
Those areas are important to him because he has schizophrenia.
Prescription medicines help control the illness, he said.
"I work with the National Alliance on Mental Illness," Stoutz said. "And I go out into the community and speak to different groups and I tell my story about what works — and doesn't work — with mental illness."
Felicia Poettgen, the ABLE Learning Center's director for the past 5 years, said Stoutz knew nothing about computers when he first came to the center three years ago, "so we started from square one, learning how to turn the computer on and log on."
She acknowledged ABLE is known for helping adults learn to read, but computer education isn't a change in the mission.
"We've found that literacy encompasses computer work," she said, "because, to be able to apply for jobs, everyone needs to be able to work with a computer.
"And they don't always have a computer available to them."
The center's work actually is ever-changing, Poettgen said, including not only adults, but middle school students "who are not quite reading on grade level."
That service especially helps students who have moved around a lot, she said, as well as adults who kept falling behind in school — and may eventually have dropped out — because they had moved regularly.
ABLE also works with students who are learning English as a second language.
"United Way has been very good to ABLE," Poettgen said, "by providing funding to us — because there is no charge for our services and all of the materials that we have for the students are free of charge."
ABLE has 20 middle school volunteers and about 25 adult volunteers, she said.
"Without volunteers, we are nothing," Poettgen said. "Volunteers are our lifeblood — they are patient, caring, and they are here because they care about people."
More information about ABLE is available online at ABLELearningCenter.com.
The program uses the space at 204 E. Dunklin St., where Jefferson City Public Schools holds adult learning classes.
"It's never too late to get a high school diploma," Stoutz said, noting his mother, years ago, helped adults learn the information needed to pass the high school equivalency exams.
"She even had elderly ladies who were getting their high school diploma," he said.
Stoutz is pleased with the help he gets from ABLE and the progress he makes each week.
"They really care, and they teach me a lot and answer my questions and show me how to do what I need to be doing," he explained. "A little compassion goes a long way."