Friday, February 1, 2002

Colton Public Library

Literacy tutors wanted:
A program graduates say changed their lives has a waiting list of adult students.
Press-Enterprise: January 10, 2002 by Maria T. Garcia

Seven years ago, Antonia Diaz found the courage to admit that she was illiterate.

The Colton homemaker and mother of four school-age children was fortunate, however. She turned to the city's Adult and Families for Literacy Program and found a reading tutor who was eager to work with her.

The literacy program that Diaz, 40, credits with changing her outlook on life has helped hundreds of other adults since its start in 1988.

Now the program itself needs help.

More than 30 people are waiting for a tutor, said Ruth Martinez, who coordinates the literacy program through the city-run Colton Public Library. But there are not enough volunteers.

The shortage of tutors means that people who want to learn to read and write have to wait until a volunteer becomes available, which can take months.

In Riverside County, finding reading volunteers is also an ongoing challenge, said Tracie Janis, coordinator of the county Library Adult Literacy Program.

"We always have a shortage of tutors," Janis said. "But we never have a shortage of students. That's never the problem."

Old-fashioned recruiting and the Internet, however, are alleviating the need for tutors in Riverside County.

The library system, with more than 20 branches and nearly 200 volunteers, has been successful in recruiting tutors at senior centers and on the Internet, Janis said. The Internet allows potential volunteers to sign up online and find out about training workshops. Computer-savvy reading volunteers can even submit their monthly reports online.

Janis said every effort must be made to find students a tutor. Otherwise, they may be discouraged from returning to the literacy program by the time a tutor becomes available.

"We may lose the student altogether," she said.

That's too bad, Diaz said, because people who ask for help have already taken the most difficult step: acknowledging that they can't read or that they need help to improve their skills. As Diaz knows, admitting that one is an illiterate adult is not easy.

"I thought I didn't need help," said Diaz, an immigrant from Mexico whose parents pulled her out of school so she could work to supplement the family's income. "But I couldn't help my children with their homework."

Diaz sought help from the Colton Public Library's adult literacy program, where she met volunteer tutor Lillian Alves, a retired elementary school teacher.

They have worked together for two years, sometimes meeting as often as three times a week. Alves has seen Diaz change from a shy person who struggled to read a newspaper into an inquisitive, college-bound woman.

Besides giving her the gift of reading and helping her earn her GED, Alves inspired Diaz to become a teacher.

Diaz plans to enroll at a community college this year before transferring to a university.

"Once you know how to read, you can open doors," Diaz said. "Reading is powerful."

For Alves, a Rialto resident who volunteers at the Colton library three days a week, helping someone -- young or old -- to read is a rewarding experience.

"It's the most amazing feeling because you feel like you've accomplished something," Alves said.