WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – In Sedgwick County in 2019, about 45,000 adults didn’t have a high school diploma or GED.

One in five adults was considered functioning illiterate, meaning they couldn’t read past an elementary school.

In grades third through twelfth, about seven out of 10 students were testing below grade level in math, English, or both in 2018.

Those statistics, according to leaders at KANSEL.

The Wichita non-profit aims to provide academic and economic opportunities through literacy.

For one former student, she wants others to know it’s never too late to continue pursuing education, no matter where life has taken you.

AJ Hamous is a former IV drug user who was facing 16 years for distribution. Part of her probation was to get her GED, which led her to KANSEL. It was about that time she got sober and got to work.

“I was actually able to graduate a lot sooner than I thought I would,” said Hamous. “It took me about two-and-a-half to three months.”

Shortly after receiving her diploma, Hamous returned to KANSEL as a volunteer, eventually becoming the admissions counselor.

“I actually helped paint the office. That is now currently my office, without knowing it was going to be my office,” said Hamous.

She now uses her experience to help students facing adversity in their education.

“We have the ability to work with everybody,” said Hamous.

“We do have people that will be coming actively, and then all of a sudden life will happen, and they have to stop. Our program is meant for that,” said Hamous.

Those at KANSEL say this is something that impacts the entire community.

“Being able to uplift your neighbors, and getting them to actually be doing what they’re capable of doing in work, means they make higher salaries, means they’re better customers for business, means that they can take out home loans, It also means ending generations of poverty.”

Thomas Montiel, executive director at KANSEL

As for Hamous, she says freedom through education has given her more than she thought possible.

“I’m almost halfway through my bachelor’s degree. I was able to buy my own house. I now have my own car,” said Hamous.

KANSEL serves students from various backgrounds, including students who have had to drop out to care for a sick parent.

Others are older students looking to finish their high school diplomas.

English language and GED courses cost $165 a year.