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West Bloomfield woman plans to use ‘Wheel of Fortune’ winnings on literacy program

By: Mike Koury | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published January 17, 2020

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WEST BLOOMFIELD — A West Bloomfield woman who recently appeared on the game show “Wheel of Fortune” will use her winnings to help restart her literacy nonprofit organization.

Vonetta Tooles was a contestant on the Jan. 7 episode of “Wheel of Fortune,” where she ran through the competition and made it all the way to the bonus round of the game show.

Tooles, an educator in the literacy office of the Detroit Public Schools Community District, was able to get on the show after playing a mock game at the visiting Wheelmobile in March. She eventually heard from producers that she had been selected to head out to California to play the game, and she taped her episode Nov. 22.

Reflecting on how she felt going into the show, Tooles said she was excited and “quietly reserved,” as she doesn’t consider herself a panicky person. She was ready to go in, have fun and solve the puzzles.

“I was able to go in and do just that,” she said. “I play ‘Wheel of Fortune’ all the time at home, and I’ll find myself yelling at the people on the screen, and I’ve always just enjoyed the show. So to be able to go on and to play for myself, it was a great opportunity.”

Tooles played the game as well as she could, solving multiple puzzles, including one for an eight-day, seven-night trip to St. Croix in the Virgin Islands, and winning all three toss-up puzzles.

Watching from the audience that day were Tooles’ mom and Tooles’ husband, Booker. Booker Tooles was confident his wife was going to do well at the game, knowing how much she watches the show at home.

At one point, one of Vonetta Tooles’ spins hit a bankrupt, but after that, Booker Tooles saw his wife’s game hit a stride that took her to the bonus round.

“It was right after that mistake, after that bankrupt, she just came on strong,” he said. “She was on fire. She answered the next puzzle and the next puzzle. I was like, ‘Oh, she’s on fire. You can’t stop her now. She’s in a flow now.’”

Unfortunately for Vonetta Tooles, she was unable to solve her bonus round puzzle. Her clue was that it was a type of event, with the answer being “upcoming job fair.”

Vonetta Tooles said she had the first and last words of the puzzle, but wasn’t able to come up with the word “job.”

“I figure if I had gotten an ‘O’ instead of an ‘I’ for a vowel, I probably would’ve figured it out,” she said. “You can’t win them all.”

At the end of her game, Vonetta Tooles took home $23,050 in cash and prizes. With the trip to St. Croix worth $10,950, the remaining total came as $12,100 in cash.

Vonetta Tooles plans to use her cash winnings to fund her literacy nonprofit, called the Urban Readers Group Effort, or URGE. The organization helps people — adults in particular — learn to read and get job skills.

“When I first started it, I didn’t have any money to do it,” she said. “It was just something that I did out of the goodness of my heart. I wanted to be a part of the solution to illiteracy in the city of Detroit.”

Booker Tooles said his wife told him her plans with the winnings after the show taping, and he’s “100% behind her.”

“I was like, ‘You don’t have to tell me the amount. Just do what you want to do. I want you to follow your dreams and what your heart believes in,’” he said.

“Having some free lump sum of cash that I could use toward that end, it just inspired me again to go back and to think about how I can be a support to folks that are lacking the human right of literacy,” Vonetta Tooles said. “I believe that everyone deserves the right to know how to read so that they can better support themselves and their families.”