“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope.” Kofi Anan
I’m going to confess: my biggest fear is not being able to express myself. A friend had a stroke this year and lost the ability to read. That scares me. Why? Being able to read and write, or speak and understand English is so important to me. Without it, my family and I would be stuck, economically disadvantaged, and we would be unable to participate fully in this community.
Really, if you think about it, the ability to express ourselves verbally and in writing is at the foundation of our American experience. It’s so important that it is in the First Amendment … freedom of speech, the press, religion, expression is core to what it means to live here in America. I was shocked that this summer the Literacy Council of Union County lost its funding and lost hope in accomplishing its mission, abandoning students and tutors. Fortunately, members of this community, over 60 of them, felt strong enough to start to do something to reignite the adult literacy mission in our county.
How did we get connected with adult literacy? In June I heard about the closing. I mentioned it to my wife, Deb. She was emphatic that we couldn’t let it die. She noted how essential literacy is not only for getting a good job, but for daily life. So, I brought it up in a board meeting and we had a very engaged conversation about how important literacy is to our economic empowerment agenda. The board told me to find out what I could. I made some calls and Linda Moyer reached out to me. Linda was one of the Council’s co-founders and is passionate about adult literacy. I had a visit from former board members, who like Linda, were outraged. As was Kelly Norton, a former Executive Director.
Like in the early days of Common Heart, a small group of people spread the word and before long over 60 community members became part of the conversation representing education, churches, government, social services, and nonprofits. Former and current volunteers, tutors and staff of the Council joined with other community members and our volunteers and staff to start reviving adult literacy in Union County.
By August, it was decided that what we are calling the Literacy Volunteers would have a home at Common Heart and become one of our major program areas! We’re so excited! Gwen Bothun, Felicia Radcliff, Syl Walker along with Linda Moyer, Kelly Norton and I would be part of a steering committee coordinating the efforts of 3 teams of volunteers. Our task: support the current tutors and students, re-establish a presence in Monroe, expand the new program throughout Union County -- all on a shoestring budget driven by volunteers.
Thanks to the generosity of friends who put up a matching grant and a local church we began raising funds. Lee Park Baptist Church committed to pay 3 months rent for our Monroe office which will be our connection in the community and house our computer lab. Thanks to the amazing vision of Signposts Ministries to provide a co-working space for nonprofit agencies near downtown Monroe we will be opening Common Heart’s newest location in Monroe this month. Watch for a grand opening and ribbon cutting once we are all set up and going!!
There’s so much to do to restart this program in our community. Three community teams are busy determining curriculum, policies for the program, setting up background support systems for tutors and students, and looking for funding. Your help is needed! This month we will be moving to our new Monroe location setting up the office and computer lab, and recruiting and training office and lab volunteers. It won’t be too long now! If you are interested in helping, reach out to LiteracyVolunteers@CommonHeart.org.