Literacy Volunteers Look to Lower Number of Illiterate Adults

Regional News

The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy reports 36 million American adults are functionally illiterate. That’s about 10 percent of our national population, but locally that percentage is even higher.

“So 14,000 adults in Chemung and Schuyler County self identify themselves as being functionally illiterate below a fourth grade level,” Program Coordinator for Literacy Volunteers of Chemung and Schuyler Counties Bryon Swartout. “And we’re not big county so when you look at the total populations of the two counties combine it’s right around 15% of the total population of adults that self-identify themselves as being functionally illiterate.”

Literacy Volunteers of Chemung and Schuyler Counties offers free help both in classroom settings and in one on one tutoring sessions.

“We help the adults in our population 16 years of age and older and we just really look at the individualized approach to teaching,” Program Director for Literacy Volunteers of Chemung and Schuyler Counties Wendy Jackson said. “And we help them with basic literacy skills everything from reading and writing to spelling, reading prescription labels things like that.”

“We deal with what happens after the public school systems in private school system say OK you’re good to go have a nice life,” Swartout said. “We deal with those aftereffects and what makes that a situation, it’s again as diverse as the people that come through.”

Literacy Volunteers also offer help to those learning English as their second language.

“We also have English as a second language learners which are not born in this country and they come to us for things like conversation skills, and getting their citizenship,” Jackson said. “So we’re very proud to help both of the populations.”

Jackson said they’ll do pretty much whatever it takes to help their students succeed. Whether that means setting up a private meeting time or even learning an entirely new way to communicate.

“I am actually working with an English as a second language learner right now and she’s from China and to get through to her, she had no skills whatsoever so I taught her sign language,”  Jackson said. “So she could communicate with me and now she’s reading words in writing sentences and we’ve been together three months so. Very just a fantastic feeling to help somebody else with the skills and knowledge that you have.”

But stigmas associated with illiteracy sometimes keep people from seeking help. 

“Our biggest challenge is getting those folks to get it off their hearts that it’s a situation because nobody wants to admit to a weakness,” Swartout said. “No one wants to admit to another adult that they can’t do something as “basic” as reading. So one thing I would say to anyone watching this story don’t let that bother you we are not here to judge, we are here to help you get over that particular barrier.”

Literacy Volunteers are also encouraging a program they call Pick Up a Book and Read. They want everyone to set aside 15 minutes every day to read anything, a comic book, the newspaper, a novel, as it can help your memory, thinking skills and much more.

For more information on volunteering or enrolling visit the Literacy Volunteers website.

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