CORVALLIS – For the past 12 years, Kristina Hare has dreamed about this day.
Resting comfortably in her motorized wheelchair on the front law of her Corvallis home, Hare is being fitted with a graduation gown, cap and tassel by a beaming Dixie Stark, executive director of Literacy Bitterroot, in preparation for her graduation photo.
A few weeks ago, she opened the envelope that contained the high school equivalency diploma that she’s now shown to just about everyone she knows.
“I’ve wanted this since before I had my first child 12 years ago,” Hare said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do for them. I wanted to be a good example of what you can do if you just try.”
Hare was born without legs and an arm. Since her first son was born, she’s used a wheelchair.
“I didn’t have the balance for my prosthetics after that,” she said.
When she was younger, her family moved around the country quite a lot. Hare never managed to stay in one place long enough to earn her high school diploma.
“I was always jumping from school to school,” she said. “There was so much I missed along the way.”
While raising two boys and managing a household, the idea of going back to school wasn’t something she could even imagine.
Now – at the age of 33 – she can’t imagine not continuing on with her education.
She’s already talking about finding a way to go to college. Hare thinks she would make a good counselor for disabled children.
“I never have let my disability get in my way,” Hare said. “Now that I’ve accomplished this, I feel like I can achieve even more.”
“In this economy, our money has been tight,” she said. “My husband (Joe) is such a harder worker, I want to be able to help out. The way my life has been going, I figured if I didn’t do this now, I probably never would.”
Literacy Bitterroot’s satellite programs that bring adult education opportunities to Corvallis, Darby, Stevensville and Hamilton made the difference for Hare.
“I don’t have my own transportation,” she said. “My husband works every day. All the people I know work. They would have to take a day off to drive me to Hamilton if there wasn’t a program here in Corvallis.”
Hare lives right across the street from Corvallis Elementary School, where the adult education classes were held. Her tutoring sessions were offered about a block away at the Corvallis Community Church.
Hare decided last year to give the program a try. She took a required pre-test in October and passed four of the required tests about two weeks later.
Her challenge was math.
“That’s a common challenge for our students,” Stark said. “Sometimes I think that instead of us being called a literacy program, we should be numeracy program.”
With the help of a dedicated instructor over a seven-month period, Hare learned the fractions, geometry and algebra that she needed to pass the test. Beyond that, she learned a little bit about herself.
“I learned you can’t be afraid to try,” she said. “My tutor had faith in me, even when I didn’t have faith in myself. That gave me the confidence to keep trying.”
It wasn’t easy, but Hare knows from long experience that the things most worth doing often aren’t easy to accomplish.
“Right now, I’m not really sure where to start on my next challenge,” she said. “Should I go online or try to attend college classes somewhere? I’m also still working on finding a way to be able drive myself.”
“What I do know is that I feel very blessed that I was able to accomplish this,” Hare said. “I wasn’t sure I would ever see the day.”
Stark hopes Hare’s story will inspire others in Ravalli County who have always wanted to earn that diploma.
A new slate of classes will begin the week of Sept. 15.
People interested in enrolling are encouraged to set aside a four-hour block of time on any Monday morning before then – except Labor Day – to attend an orientation session that includes filling out paperwork and some testing. The sessions begin at 9 a.m. at the Literacy Bitterroot office at 316 N. Third St. in Hamilton, Suite 156.
If people can’t make it to the office during that time period, Stark encourages them to call 363-2900 to see if other arrangements can be made.
“I have three students in Stevensville right now waiting for classes to get underway,” Stark said. “We hope there will many more.”
There’s no appointment necessary for the orientation sessions.
“Kristina showed us all what’s possible,” Stark said. “Her persistence and determination is what made this happen. She’s an inspiration to us all.”