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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