Volunteer to Improve Literacy in the Triangle (Read Across America Day, March 2)
Literacy, the ability to read and write, is more important today than it’s ever been. Although we also think of literacy in terms of its secondary definition, a person’s knowledge of a particular subject, and we value different types of literacy—financial, cultural, or computer literacy, for example—it’s hard to overestimate the value of being able to read and write. We are lucky to have some excellent ways to improve literacy in our area.
What Is Literacy?
I spent most of my career as an English teacher, so my world was centered on reading and writing. But I don’t have to look too far back in my family tree to find relatives who lacked these skills. My mother remembers when her grandfather signed an X for his name because he couldn’t read or write. Smart and skilled, he could look over a forest and estimate its value as lumber. He knew how to plant a garden, build a house, and kill a hog. He raised three boys in rural Georgia during the early 20th century and was literate in the second sense of “literacy.” But I’m not sure how he would fare in today’s world.
Before I became an English teacher, I worked for a literacy program called Motheread. Soon after finishing my degree, I saw a posting in Raleigh’s News & Observer advertising a new kind of literacy program, one that needed VISTA volunteers (Volunteers in Service to America). I learned that the pilot program would be at the North Carolina Correctional System for Women. Incarcerated mothers would learn to read children’s storybooks and record their voices reading the books for their children. The program’s goal was to help mothers connect with and educate their children while also educating themselves, learning not only the words, but the essence and meaning of the story, especially how to discuss stories with their children. What a great idea, I thought! The Motheread philosophy confirmed my beliefs about the value of stories and about how we learn. I was sold.
Literacy Can Be Life-Changing
I worked with Motheread as a VISTA volunteer and later as a part-time employee, helping develop curricula and working with mothers from all walks of life. It was a life-changing experience and revealed how stories can connect and motivate people.
According to its website, Motheread is known for “putting books in the hands, literacy in the lives, and stories in the hearts of children and adults for more than 30years”
Unique in starting with the story before learning the words, it’s like learning music by ear or learning a language by speaking (like the Suzuki method for music or immersion for language; it’s also the natural way that we learn our own language, talking first and then reading and writing). Focusing on the power of the story, Motheread continues to help women, children, and families. It now has programs throughout the USA and in other countries.
Three Ways to Improve Literacy in the Triangle
Read and Feed
Read and Feed, combines two of my favorite activities—reading and eating! I love their motto: “giving kids an appetite for reading.” The organization provides books, classes, and meals for underserved children in grades K-5 and motivates by making reading fun. One unique aspect of Read and Feed is its fleet of RVs, revamped as mobile classrooms. Created “to strengthen literacy skills among under-served elementary school children and provide meals in a nurturing neighborhood environment,” Read and Feed works closely with local schools to identify children who may have fallen behind in reading. They need tutors for both virtual and in-person classes and provide extensive training and support for those volunteers. The program is always in need of volunteer RV drivers, who are also thoroughly trained. Read and Feed accepts monetary as well as book donations and says that one great way to help is to have a book drive.
Learn more and sign up to volunteer with Read and Feed HERE!
Triangle Literacy Council
One mainstay of literacy in our area is the Triangle Literacy Council, which “improves the lives of adults, youth, and families by teaching basic literacy and life skills for economic and social success.” Serving the area for over 45years, the Triangle Literacy Council offers one-on-one and group classes in basic literacy as well as in ESL (English as a second language). The Triangle Literacy Council partners with other organizations to bring literacy to our community and is always in need of tutors. Volunteers can learn more about the Triangle Literacy Council tutoring by attending one of their monthly volunteer orientations (currently online), then apply and attend in-person workshops in their area of interest (ESL, juvenile literacy, etc).
Wake Up and Read
Wake Up and Read, another local program designed to improve literacy, is a “community coalition made up of 30+ organizations working together toward one common goal—improving childhood literacy.” They believe that literacy is the right of every child and focus on educating the community about the importance of childhood literacy. They also work toward increasing access to literacy resources and opportunities for all children. The organization focuses on the key areas of school readiness, learning loss, and attendance to ensure that every child has the opportunity to learn to read. Wake Up and Read holds annual book drives, sometimes partnering with bookstores, and works closely with schools to fulfill its vision that every child in Wake County will be inspired, equipped, and empowered to read.
Don’t Take Literacy for Granted
My mother, now 94, didn’t read much for most of her life but now counts reading as one of her joys and main activities. She doesn’t hear well and sometimes has trouble conversing or listening to the TV. But she has grown to love reading. Earlier, she thought she didn’t have time to read or the skills to understand. But she says that she’s getting better at it. I remind her that it’s like anything else: the more you practice, the better you get, and the more you enjoy it.
We sometimes take for granted the ability to read and write, but many people lack those skills or need to develop them more fully. There are so many ways to help others learn to read and write, and it is one of the most rewarding volunteer opportunities. Improving literacy can change a life in so many ways. Helping someone learn those skills can also change your life.