Depression, stroke, hunger, food poisoning, unemployment, high school dropout - so what’s the common thread? Well, chances are you’re familiar with at least one of these things. That’s because advocates for these problems claim the “one in six” statistic. You know, one in six people have depression, one in six people have faced unemployment, etc. “One in six” is the mantra at the Literacy Council too. The numbers are hard to come by because of the stigma of illiteracy, but we can safely say that one in six adults struggles with reading. Take a minute to think about what that means for our community.
The first person I met who couldn’t read was years ago. I had just started as a volunteer tutor at the Literacy Council. Even during my training to become a literacy tutor, I couldn’t imagine there were people who couldn’t read. I was pretty sure I’d never met anyone who couldn’t. Reading had played such a big role in my growing up. My parents read to me. I would sneak books during naptime. I read all the vampire books as a teenager. I joined a book club in my 20s that still meets monthly. And when I got pregnant with my first child, my first stop was the library.
So who are these people who can’t read? My first student, Brian*, was a little younger than me, a high school graduate who wanted to go to college. Brian wanted to become an auto mechanic. We met weekly at the Lima Public Library where we’d work through car magazine articles. I read to him and he would follow along, sparking all kinds of ideas about the engines, valves, and cylinders. I could barely keep up. He knew so much about something I knew so little about. That’s the thing that got me and still does about our students at the Literacy Council. They have experiences, goals, and skills that I only wish I had. Like our student Arthur's skills, for example. (See video below.)
Amazing, right? But the thing that happened with my student, Brian, was that he just stopped showing up. I never knew if it was me, or something I said. But he just didn’t show up anymore. Over time I’ve learned that this is the case many times with adult learners. Life gets in the way. The whole experience didn’t discourage me though. In fact, those few meetings taught me something pretty big. People who struggle with reading, struggle with many parts of life. The mom who can’t find a sitter for two hours a day so she can attend GED class. The young man on probation trying to find work just to buy food. The older gentleman who can’t see well enough to get a driver's license. The domestic violence victim who works so much she doesn’t have time for education. I see this every day, and my heart goes out to them for their courage to walk through our door and say, “I need help.” They are the “one in six” in many other ways. And that’s exactly the reason I go to work every day.
Yesterday, I posted a blog about the Literacy Council house and why you should visit our beautiful, old, possibly-haunted home. Today I’m telling you why I work there and what we do. Today, during Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, I’m asking you to simply look around. Who do you see that might be that one in six who struggles with reading?
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For many years the building where I work went unnoticed. Maybe it still does. But I think that’s just because some people can’t (or don’t want to) imagine what goes on inside. The Northwest Ohio Literacy Council sits near the corner of Metcalf and Spring streets in Lima. It’s one of those beautiful old homes, built in 1903 by Clair and Lulu Tolan, a wealthy local couple, who valued hand-made art, stained glass, ornately carved woodwork, custom wallpaper and extraordinary attention to detail. Experts in historical design have described the house as “a cultural treasure for Lima and Allen County.” Yet somehow this museum-caliber home is still unknown to many.
So every day for more than four years I’ve gone into work and been immersed in this treasure. In the morning I climb a grand oak staircase to an office in what used to be a bedroom. I meet with students, update our website and help plan fundraisers. Later I go back down to heat up my lunch in the kitchen, passing two or three fireplaces and through one of the four sets of pocket doors in the house. I often walk through the pantry, where we happen to keep office supplies. But you know, sometimes I think the charm of the place has even worn off on me. If I took a second to look around I’d see not just the copier, but a work of art. Wooden pantry cabinets stretch to the 10-foot ceilings and a cute little roll up wooden window connects the pantry to the dining room. From the kitchen table you can imagine house servants passing dinner through to the Tolan family. But usually these details escape me as I’m sitting there on my iPhone, eating my soup.
So what does go on inside? For starters, there’s the ghost.
From what we understand, Lulu Tolan still calls 563 W. Spring Street her home. It’s documented, too. Author James Willis and his team camped out overnight in the house after hearing the stories coming out of the Literacy Council House. Willis is the founder of Ghosts of Ohio, a nationally recognized paranormal research organization that uses scientific and historic methods to investigate and document reported hauntings in the state of Ohio. Lulu and the Literacy Council even secured an entire chapter in Willis’ latest book, Ohio’s Historic Haunts.
See for yourself the first two weekends in October when the Downtown Lima Lantern Tours make a stop at the Literacy Council in search of our shadowy residents. If you’re lucky, there might still be tickets left for the tour. But if they’re sold out, I can make you another offer.
This week the Literacy Council and our in-office partner, Lima City Schools Aspire, celebrate 30 years of serving the Lima area community, 10 years in our “haunted” Spring Street home, and National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week #AEFLWeek. We are extending an open invitation to the entire community to visit our amazing home, to look around, and to meet our director Ken Blanchard, who revived the house with his own hands turning this undiscovered gem into a community resource. Stop by during office hours 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Just tell us you want to have a look around.
Don’t let us go unnoticed any longer.