Born and raised in Savannah, most people call him Mr. Bamboo– a name awarded to him by his former work associates for his undeniable work ethic. United Way, however, knows him by the name of Frank Williams– a man who so loved the Lord, that he decided to combat his reading disability in order to preach to his congregation as the church’s Deacon. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), almost 43 million people in the United States fall under the category of illiterate or functionally illiterate. At the age of 78, Frank is choosing to re-categorize himself as he continuously soars throughout his reading lessons.
Frank was seven years old when he lost his mother. Unfortunately, after her death there was little support for his education. His siblings, who were much older, had moved away from the home to begin families of their own. Although his father was an attentive man, he was uneducated nevertheless. With no one at home to properly teach him, Frank fell far behind in his schooling. At the time, extra assistance was not provided, so Frank relied heavily upon his workmanship to make a living. Fortunately, his hardwork exceeded his education. “They never asked me how much education I had, but I had common sense,” said Frank. Many individuals took a liking to his outgoing personality and job moral, which would eventually land him a position at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farms.
“For 32 years I worked there, and I was never late nor absent.” When asked how he adopted the name, Mr. Bamboo, he replied, “Bamboo grows 18-inches in under 24 hours, above and below the soil. It’s steadily moving all the time…I guess they nicknamed me Mr. Bamboo because I move so fast.”
Early in his retirement, Frank decided to reapply that same dedication towards his education by enrolling into a reading program at Royce Learning Center. A non-profit partner of United Way of the Coastal Empire, Royce Learning Center admits 300 students per year for its Adult and Community Education (ACE) program. The program assists individuals of all ages by providing educational services to those in need of their GED, additional assistance for learning disabilities, and much more. Executive Director at the Royce Learning Center, Ron Wilson, stated, “The Adult Center is a feel-good place to work because once our attendees obtain their goals there’s just nothing but joy and sponsorship that comes out of the program… Without United Way, I’m not sure the program would exist, nor would we be able to offer as many services to the adults that would like to have them.”
The ACE program includes five lead teachers as well as 40 volunteers, all of whom work to help people like Frank achieve their educational goals. Frank spoke highly of the program’s Lead Coordinator, Khani Morgan, stating, “She’s a dream of America.” He is most gracious for her consistent care for the students’ learning and wellbeing. “We are meaningful people who have meaningful goals. If you have a purpose to be fulfilled, you can reach that goal at Royce…For those who are willing to learn it’s like giving candy to a baby,” said Morgan.
Frank has been recently diagnosed with cancer, splitting his time between the Royce Learning Center and St. Joseph’s Hospital. Due to the unforeseen circumstances of Covid-19, Frank is unable to attend any physical classes. However, he is a frequent attendee to the online teachings. He continues to maintain his dedication to his studies, defying the odds that are against him. Morgan has doted upon Frank’s confidence in his approach to each task that is given, with a reminder that it is never too late to educate one’s self. United Way couldn’t be more delighted to support Mr. Bamboo and everyone else who have chosen to be a part of the Royce Learning Center.
Frank stated, “I love Royce because I’ve met some beautiful people. It’s more than just a school. Anything they can do to help you, they will do it. You can’t find that everywhere.”
At United Way we are proud of Frank, and we are proud of our supporters that make Frank’s education a possibility. To give to United Way, visit uwce.org.