Tuesday, April 04, 2017

TOP STORY >> Kicking down doors

Leader staff writer

The Lonoke County Literacy Council has helped a Chinese immigrant become an educated young American.

Growing up in China, Lily Zhou Morrow was one of three children at a time when the country severely restricted the number of children a family could have. As a result, her parents, Li Hua and Mai Ping Zhou, sent her to live with her grandparents, Su Fang and Qing Yang Zhou. Her grandfather became ill when she was only eight, so her grandmother worked the farm alone. The young child helped when and where she could, and she said her grandmother made her who she is today.

When she was older, money was scarce, which meant there was none for her tuition, books, the teachers and other costs associated with education, and she was forced to leave school in the ninth grade.

“School isn’t free,” she said about the education system in China.

Morrow, who moved to Lonoke a decade ago, wrote on the Arkansas Department of Career Education website, “Fifty Faces,” “My hope for education was killed by poverty. I was angry, despairing and destroyed. I didn’t have any choice…Even though my chance to go to school had seemed zero percent, my enthusiasm for the pursuit of knowledge never died.”

She said, “It was hard for me when I quit school…Doors closed for me.”


For a time, she lived in Inner Mongolia, part of China, where she sold clothes, and later moved to Beijing, China, to live with her sister. At first, she waitressed, but eventually she landed a job selling furniture. In large part because she could speak “a little English,” Morrow said.

She remembered that she always had a book in her hand and she devoted every extra moment she had to reading, but without a formal education, the most she could hope for was “to marry and become a housewife and have lots of children.”


Lily said she was attracted to Bill Morrow, a software developer and installer for Halliburton Co. from Texas, the first moment he entered the furniture shop where she worked. He was interested in the leather handmade fishes they sold.

She was 19, and before he left the shop, he had arranged for them to take a day trip.

“We were so happy to get to know each other and fell in love,” she wrote in “50 Faces.”

They dated for two years or so before Bill Morrow asked her to go to the United States with him and marry.

He recalled, “She was always studying… She’s amazing.”

To sweeten the pot, he promised she could get an education once here.

Lily Morrow said, “I knew he cared about me…A good education was always my dream. It would open doors for me.”

The two married June 24, 2007, and made their home in Lonoke, where he had relatives.

Bill Morrow was true to his word and soon his wife was working with Judy Jackson, a tutor, at the Lonoke (County) Literacy Council.

“She was an outstanding student,” Jackson said a few weeks ago while visiting the Cabot Public Library at 909 W. Main St., where students are able to work with Literacy Council volunteer tutors.

Lily also worked with Debbie Shelton at Lonoke and Prairie Counties Adult Education at 500 E. Locust St. in Lonoke. Shelton is now the program’s director.

Shelton said Lily rode her bike to class everyday, adding, “She was very diligent and determined.”

In addition to working with her on improving her English skills, Shelton borrowed textbooks from the Lonoke High School so Lily could prepare for the GED exam.

Lily remembered Shelton saying to her at the time, “‘This is your dream, and we will help you.’”

Lily said her help meant so much, and said, “She was very good to me.”

Shelton said, “Lily is ray of sunshine and just a joy.”

It took Lily about three years to complete her GED.

Shelton said, “It’s not a quick process and a person must be dedicated.

Another excerpt from “50 Faces,” in which Lily Morrow wrote, “When I held my high school diploma, tears dropped down from my eyes. I had so much I wanted to say. I not only made a lone journey from China to America but also had an unbelievable tough path to approach my dream of education.”

Her GED was her long-time dream, but just a first step, Lily Morrow said she felt like “doors were opening.”

And she had the courage to take those first steps and walk through.

She took classes at the Adult Education Center in Lonoke, where she prepared for college classes. While there, she took the ACT and scored 28 in math.

Shelton said, each step builds a student’s self-esteem.

In 2013, Lily became a U.S. citizen and received a full scholarship from Arkansas State University at Beebe, and in 2016, she earned an associate’s of arts degree, graduating with a 4.0 GPA.

She has won awards for her scholastic achievements, and now, she’s a student at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, where she is working on a degree in mechanical engineering.

It isn’t all about herself, Bill Morrow said. “She volunteers and loves to help other students.”

Lily didn’t timidly push open those closed doors but kicked them wide open. Her husband said, “She works all the time. She wants to be perfect. For me, it’s been a pleasure to see her come so far, just by her will alone. Everyday I’m amazed at her progress. She just keeps getting better.”

Shelton said, “Lily went after her education. It’s pretty cool.”

Lily said, “I am lucky to be here. My future is filled with so much opportunity,” and perhaps one day she’ll have a job at Remington Arms in Lonoke, Caterpillar Inc. in North Little Rock or perhaps at Halliburton Co. like her husband.

She said with hard work and dedication, “This is a dream anyone can achieve.”

To read Lily Morrow’s entire “50 Faces” story in her own words, go to https://t.e2ma.net/click/pb0qg/18dlzo/te18qb


While visiting the Cabot Public Library a few weeks ago, Shelton said, “Without good reading skills, a person has a limited future.”

“With good reading skills, a person has a better quality of life,” and, she added, “No matter what walk of life a person is from, it’s (more education) possible.”

Cari Swink, director of both the Prairie Arkansas Literacy Council and the Literacy Council of Lonoke County, said her office took over the Lonoke Literacy Council last year and hopes to expand its services.

They worked with 31 students last year, but Swink believes she can triple those numbers.

They are looking for tutors for their Cabot, Lonoke, Hazen and Stuttgart programs, which help students advance to an eighth-grade reading level, as well as English as a Second Language and family literacy tutors.

Swink said, “We don’t yet have the tutor base we need.”

Shelton said, “It feels good to help someone.”

Volunteers are also needed at these sites and duties include office work, help in its bookstores and with events and fundraisers.

Training and materials are free to tutors, volunteers and students, and learning programs can be tailored to the individual’s need.

“If (you or) someone you know needs help, please call us…Everyone is welcome,” she said.

Swink is also a volunteer and said, “We take our education for granted,” but there are many reasons a person may not have succeeded.

They want to help not only young immigrants but people from all walks of life.

For example, a person might have gone through school at a time when disabilities like dyslexia weren’t treated or even recognized.