Newport library honors student with memorial award

Isabel Sevilla struggled in school while growing up in southeast Mexico. And after her father died, she dropped out at 15 to help support her family.

Nearly two decades later, Sevilla, 36, put the focus back on her education and was honored for her dedication to self-improvement.

"This is my first award for education in my life," the Costa Mesa resident said. "It is also a responsibility for me to be a better student and keep working hard."

Sevilla was honored Thursday morning for her progress in reading, writing and speaking English during the Newport Beach Public Library Literacy Services' seventh annual International Literacy Day celebration.

"Today we honor those that said, 'Hey, I need help. Is there someone who can help me?' And they are really transforming their lives," said Nancy Thompson, president of the literacy advisory board.

Sevilla was recognized with the Rochelle Hoffman Memorial Award during the ceremony at the Central Library after being nominated by her tutor, Laurie Hoagland, whom she has worked with for two and a half years. Sevilla has never missed a weekly tutoring session or come unprepared, Hoagland said.

"She has been an amazing student, and I don't know how to describe her beautiful mind, keen intellect," Hoagland said.

The award is given in memory of Rochelle Hoffman, who served as a tutor from 2002 until her death in 2004.

She volunteered throughout her terminal illness until she was too sick to continue.

Hoffman was instrumental in getting the program off the ground, Thompson said.

"This program was very special to my mother," said Hoffman's daughter, Renee Heath, who attended with her sister, Risa Hoffman. "Isabel really just epitomizes a lot of what my mother was about."

About 100 volunteer tutors and about 150 students are involved in Newport/Mesa ProLiteracy, which helps adult Newport-Mesa residents improve their reading, writing and pronunciation, said Cherall Weiss, the program coordinator.

The program helps adults who immigrated from around the world and those born in the U.S. who slipped through the cracks.

The day is about celebrating literacy, but also about bringing to light the problem of illiteracy, Weiss said.

"We need to recognize that there is a problem right here in the community," she said.

Sevilla went to the library more than two years ago to ask about an English tutor. Ever since, she has set her sights on bigger goals.

Sevilla is studying for her GED, which she wants to take before the year ends. She also aspires to earn an associate's degree from Orange Coast College in child development and music.

"I couldn't do anything without the literacy program because that opened the window of opportunity," she said.

Twitter: @britneyjbarnes

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