Monday, April 5, 2010

San Luis Obispo City-County Library

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Can't read that? Now you know how it feels.

New Times: March 30, 2010 by Glen Starkey


If you’re reading this right now, count yourself lucky: You’re not among the estimated 21 to 23 percent of American adults who are either wholly illiterate, functionally illiterate (those who might be able to understand a couple thousand words memorized by sight in grade school but who are unable to understand such basic written instructions as warning labels or driving directions), or have substandard reading skills that negatively affect their earnings.

Studies suggest that among these semi-literate 40- to 44-million American adults, even those who possess some reading skills may lack the ability to locate information in text or make low-level inferences from printed materials.

As a reader, you might think, “Oh, well. That’s their problem, not mine,” but American illiteracy affects us all. A literate workforce is a productive workforce, and semi-literate workers earn far below their literate counterparts, meaning they don’t contribute effectively to our economy.

Furthermore, Americans with reading deficiencies are more likely to require such social services as welfare, food stamps, and Section 8 subsidized housing. They’re more likely to be unable to afford health insurance. They don’t have the means to further their education to improve their condition. In other words, not only are they a drag on the economy, tax dollars may subsidize their needs. Luckily, there’s an organization that does something about this problem.
The Literacy Council of SLO County estimates there are as many as 25,000 functionally illiterate adults in the county. While many of the Literacy Council’s clients are English as a Second Language (ESL) learners, some are native speakers who simply never learned to read and write. For many of them, the hardest step to improving their reading and writing skills is admitting they have a problem and seeking help.

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So who is the Literacy Council there for? The short answer is, Anyone who needs it.


According to their website (sloliteracy.org), the Literacy Council is a “non-profit volunteer organization affiliated with Laubach Literacy International, providing tutoring in English language skills for adult native English speakers and speakers of other languages. The Council coordinates tutoring at learning centers throughout San Luis Obispo County and provides training workshops for tutors.”

Bernardi got her start at the council in 1998 when she became aware of the need.
“I met a man who had worked for city park maintenance for 30 years but who read at a first- or second-grade level,” recalled Bernardi. “If he needed to respond to correspondence, his wife read it for him. So that’s how I came to it—as a tutor. I was originally hired to be a fundraiser, and even now when I get caught up in fundraising and grant writing, I’ll go to one of the centers to be reminded why we do this. Currently we’re vastly under-funded, but we’re a lean, mean machine. We get a lot done with a little.”

Much of the Literacy Council’s funding comes from the State Library system, but in the current state budget situation, those funds are tenuous at best.

“Last year, the legislature threatened to cut the whole thing, but we got together and lobbied and we’re now surviving despite a six percent cut,” said Bernardi. “To make matters worse, private donations are down. Hopefully, if we ever get to the point where we’re talking about closing our doors, the community will rally.”

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Meet the tutors
Dagmar Malkus started volunteering a decade ago. The German native understood the importance of English skills for immigrants in the United States.
“I also couldn’t stand being boxed up in my house,” she laughed, “and I got hooked on tutoring.”

Marty Nelson, a tutor since 2006, also spoke of the intoxicating nature of volunteer tutoring: “This is the most fun thing to do. They appreciate it so much.”
“And it’s one-on-one,” added Malkus. “As tutors, we learn so much more about the world and the people.”
“When we tell students we’re all volunteers, that’s a very strange concept to some of them,” offered Nelson. “They can’t believe we’re doing it for free.”

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Get tutored, become a tutor, or donate to the cause


The Literacy Council of San Luis Obispo County is located at 1264 Higuera St., Suite 102, SLO, CA 93401. Open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., they can be reached at 541-4219, toll free at (800) 546-4219, or via email at literacy@charter.net. They run learning centers in most SLO County towns and provide free tutor training every month, where tutors attend two Saturday morning sessions (the next ones are April 17 and 24). They currently need tutors and donations to keep their non-profit going. READ MORE !

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