First in an occasional series highlighting 10 University of Virginia employees who have taken advantage of the University's adult education benefit.
July 18, 2011 — For Dedrick Johnson, working in the University of Virginia's Facilities Management Department has provided valuable opportunities to improve his life. One of those opportunities is free classes in General Educational Development, which U.Va. offers on-site during work hours in a collaborative arrangement with Charlottesville's Adult Learning Center.
The GED program provides adults who never finished high school with a series of courses and tests.
Johnson won a top prize in the Regional Literacy Coordinating Committee's competition for his essay on an "everyday hero," which was published in the 15th annual "Voices of Adult Learners" booklet earlier this spring.
He wrote about one of his uncles: "He has been my hero ever since I was born. He gave me confidence about life. ... He was the first to teach me right from wrong. ... I don't think I would have made it without him."
Employed as a buildings housekeeper for four years, Johnson has completed courses in literature and writing. They have reignited his childhood interest in reading, he said.
Johnson, a native of North Carolina who grew up in Brooklyn, lost his way in life despite a loving and supportive upbringing, he said. He ended up homeless in New York City for 25 years and addicted to crack cocaine, he said.
Johnson got "cleaned up" a few years ago prior to moving to Charlottesville, he said. In remaking his life, he has reconnected with many people in his large extended family, including his wife, a daughter and her two children, among others.
His supervisor, Joey Newton, said Johnson is dependable and often works extra hours when he's needed. In addition to daily cleaning in buildings around Grounds, Johnson is doing floor work this summer – stripping and refinishing a lot of tile floors, Newton said.
"I am a master cleaner," Johnson said proudly.
He said he had tried several jobs before coming to U.Va. "God knew what He was doing when He led me here," he said. "It's a good place for me."
Since 2002, the University has contracted with Charlottesville's Adult Learning Center to deliver GED classes on Grounds. The center provides the instructors and the materials, and U.Va. pays for it. Classes in English as a second language for non-native speakers are also offered.