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Academy of Hope
Marja Hilfiker’s journey was a spiritual story. She and her parents came to Washington D.C. to be a part of the Church of Our Savior, whose mission was to find where one’s deepest desire meets the pain of the world.
“I pondered that and looked into different things,” said Hilfiger in KET’s nationally broadcast Dropping Back In series, “and wondered, ‘what was my deepest desire?’”
Her question didn’t remain unanswered for long. It arrived in a phone call asking if she would be interested in teaching GED test preparation classes. Right then she knew that was the call that she had been waiting for.
The phone call led to the founding of the Washington D.C. Academy of Hope, a nonprofit adult education center, in the middle of a housing project in one of D.C.’s poorest areas.
Those she and others like her teach often are unemployed, living in subsidized housing with uncertain childcare.
“Our school is a place where the teachers care for the students and the students care for the teachers,” said Hilfiker. “Everybody needs to be cared for.”
Having already failed in school, the biggest fear expressed by these students is failing again.
“They don’t have a sense of their best efforts being paid off in life,” said Hilfiker, “It’s a very difficult thing to live with.”
Many also think it was their own fault that they are in the situation, often getting angry with themselves for not being able to apply for jobs and do other things because of their lack of education.
But Hilfiker thinks these students overcome this fear by being a part of the community the Academy of Hope has to offer.
“When people feel like they are part of a community they are more likely to persist,” said Lecester Johnson, the executive director of the academy.
Many want to set a good example for their children, but most haven’t even finished school themselves.
The Academy of Hope attempts to show these students their worth and allow them to prove to others, as well as themselves, that they can do it.
Since its founding in 1985, more than 560 adults have earned GED diplomas through the academy.