Today is International
Literacy is the ability to read and write one’s own name and further for knowledge and interest, write coherently, and think critically about the written word.
International Literacy Day has been celebrated every September since 1965, when it was first established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Many organizations and governments throughout the world take advantage of this day to promote reading.
Worldwide, an estimated 775.4 million adults and 122.2 million youths are illiterate, according to UNESCO.
An estimated 30 million people in the United States can’t read any better than the average elementary school child.
Nearly 4,000 adults, moms and children in Lehigh Acres and the rest of Lee County received help last year from a brigade of volunteer tutors working for two organizations. They’re working to close the book on illiteracy and help non-English speakers gain confidence and expanded opportunities. They hold classes in schools, recreation centers and work places around the community. There are group classes and one-on-one opportunities.
But looming on the horizon is the prospect of a federal immigration bill that might mandate English proficiency for immigrants. That would increase the demand for tutors and could change the classroom dynamics, leaders of the organizations said.
“We’re going to be bombarded. It’s going to be huge. We want to be ready,” said Rae Nicely, director of Lehigh Community Services. She would like to double her volunteer force of tutors to about 50 before Congress passes a bill.
“We kind of don’t know what is going to happen. It’s kind of been back and forth,” said Susan Acuna, president and CEO of the Literacy Council Gulf Coast.
Both agencies provide training for their tutors. Both say a volunteer does not need a teaching background or special skills such as knowing a second language.
One tutor ambassador for the Community Services program is Mary Root, 91, who just stopped tutoring last year. She started the literacy program in Lehigh Acres 25 years ago.
“From the time you get up in the morning there are things to read,” Root said.
“It’s rewarding for the tutors when you can see how they progress,” said Root, a retired nurse. “You do for others. That’s what’s important.”
She got started when someone pointed out to her that if you can’t read a label on a can of tuna or cat food, and there is no picture, then you might end up buying cat food, she said.
Lehigh Community Services offers classes Thursday and Friday mornings at its office on Plaza Drive. Four classes are held at a church on Wednesdays and two classes at the Presbyterian House as well as one-on-one sessions. The agency will help students find the right class for their schedule.
About 70 people a month use the service, which costs about $1,000 a year, Nicely said. Rotary, Kiwanis and other donors help the program with money and materials.
Literacy Council operates programs in Harn’s Marsh Elementary from 10 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Lehigh Elementary from 10 a.m. to noon on Mondays and Wednesdays and Sunshine Elementary from 9:20 to 10:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays. A program is being organized at J. Weaver Hipps Elementary School. A program for GED students also is held from 10 a.m. to noon on Mondays and Wednesdays at Veterans Park.
The programs, which started last year at Harn’s Marsh, are for parents who want to get involved in their child’s education and for people who live near the schools, Acuna said. An increase in parents attending teacher conferences and their confidence has been seen as a result, she said.
“There is a big need. We get a lot of calls. We need more space and more tutors,” Acuna said. The group has about 800 volunteers helping out across Lee County. Volunteers put in 69,000 hours of service worth about $1.5 million last year, according to the organization’s annual report.
If you would like to volunteer as a tutor please call Rae Nicely at 239-369-5818