Literacy Council seeks volunteers to teach adults to read

The Literacy Council of Union County has sought to improve the lives of adults over the last 15 years by teaching them to read. To continue that mission, the group needs volunteers to step up and help out.

The Literacy Council, located in downtown Monroe at 105-A E. Jefferson St., welcomes both nonnative and native speakers of English who need to learn how to read.

Literacy is necessary “for survival,” Kelly Helms Norton, executive director of the council, said. People need to read street signs to understand where they are going, mail to pay their bills and medical forms to stay healthy.

“It’s those daily tasks we do that we don’t even think about – those are the tasks our students are trying to do,” Norton said.

The Literacy Council depends on its small staff and volunteer tutors to continue spreading literacy across the county using both one-on-one and small-group tutoring methods. But the group is facing a shortage of tutors, needing about 80 active tutors at any given time. Currently, there are about 65 active tutors.

“If you have a basic knowledge of English speech, (the training is) really easy to do,” said Margaret Ursprung, a volunteer who has been with the Literacy Council for about a year and a half.

The organization holds tutor training sessions five times a year. In training, tutors learn how teaching adults is different from teaching children and practice using the program’s materials and resources.

Volunteers come from all walks of life. Ursprung has more than 20 years of experience as a nurse under her belt, but volunteers also include teachers, retirees and even a farmer, Norton said.

Ursprung said she enjoys tutoring because she wants to help others and because she can’t imagine not being able to read.

She also has been impressed with the way her students “want to improve the lives of themselves and their families,” she said. “They’re very appreciative…and it’s very rewarding for me.”

Charlotte Ganser, a volunteer who has tutored for about three and a half years, also has enjoyed her students’ positive attitude and motivation.

Ganser believes tutoring adults will help entire families in the long run. One of her students was overjoyed when she was able to help her daughter with her schoolwork.

“I’ve been able to see how it’s impacted the families,” Ganser said.

Norton likes to see the journey students take as they learn literacy skills, conversation skills and even email skills. Her journey with the Literacy Council also has been an interesting one. She started as a volunteer in 2000 and served as a tutor trainer for about nine years before stepping up to the executive director position in February 2011.

Throughout her years with the council, Norton has seen plenty of success stories. One student was excited when she was able to purchase gas by herself after practicing English dialogue.

The tutoring takes on an even deeper meaning for many students when they are able to read the Bible. “When they don’t have to rely on a pastor to tell them what it says, when they can read it for themselves, that’s huge,” Norton said.

Regardless of what students are reading, the Literacy Council wants to give its students the dignity all human beings deserve, Norton said. “We really do empower our neighbors in Union County by helping them to be independent and self-sufficient.”

Want to help?

The next tutor training session will be held Aug. 16, a Friday, from 6 to 9 p.m. and Aug. 17, a Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

There are plenty of ways to get involved with the council in the meantime. On June 19, a Wednesday, from 6 to 8 p.m., the organization will hold Literacy Council 101, a monthly program to raise awareness about literacy issues in the county and to share volunteer opportunities.

The Literacy Council is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays and from noon to 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays. Tutoring is offered during these hours.

Tutors are always needed, as well as volunteers to answer phones and help in the council’s computer lab.

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