Can Do Attitudes

Giving high-school dropouts a positive environment.

click to enlarge LEARNING TO SUCCEED: Tutor William Channer poses with one of his students, 17-year-old Leugim Freytes. - Shanna Gillette
Shanna Gillette
LEARNING TO SUCCEED: Tutor William Channer poses with one of his students, 17-year-old Leugim Freytes.

Jamaica-born William Channer had recently retired. Following a career spent working as a certified public account for Pinellas County, he was ready to enjoy his golden years, kick up his feet and relax after decades spent crunching numbers.

But his wife thought maybe he could spend a little time giving back. She heard about I Can! Community Education Coalition, Inc., a nonprofit that promotes literacy and helps high-school dropouts earn their GEDs, and encouraged her hubby to sign up. Channer visited the Temple Terrace learning center and agreed to tutor students a couple nights a week. That was four years ago. These days, the 75-year-old puts in more than 20 hours per week at I Can!, volunteering during the 9 a.m.-2 p.m. day session three days a week and the 6 -9 p.m. night session twice a week.

"The reason I stay here is I see a need to help students learn the basic skills," Channer says. "Especially the young ones who dropped out [of high school]. So I came just to do the night sessions but increased my hours when I saw the need."

Channer spends his days helping kids like 17-year-old Leugim Freytes, who dropped out of nearby Middleton High School and enrolled at I Can! in October.

"I was doing bad [at Middleton]," Freytes says.

I Can! Founder & Executive Director Michelle Tate-Martin, known around the learning facility simply as "Ms. Michelle," describes Freytes as an "outstanding student" who should earn his GED by February or March.

"They listen to me here," Freytes says. "I have more time with the teachers."

Channer's devotion to at-risk youths like Freytes earned him the 2007 Governor's Points of Light Award.

"Through his teaching, William is preparing young Floridians to approach life with confidence," Governor Crist said in July. "His work encourages teens and adults to overcome challenges and realize their full potential."

A giant banner announcing Channer's accomplishment hangs in one of the study rooms. Poster boards covered with pictures of tutors and students, which range in age from 16 to 65, line the hallways.

"A lot of these kids have behavior problems," Channer explains. "But once they come here, they're in a different environment, challenged and re-motivated. They don't have that bad group of friends encouraging them. They have people here who love and encourage them to move on."

Once the students pass their GED, they return to I Can! to share the good news with Mr. Channer and Ms. Michelle.

"That's the reward," Channer says. "To see the joy in their faces — that's what keeps me coming back."

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