Take a look at any grouping of five people you know. Chances are one of them has trouble reading and, by extension, encounters problems with the daily tasks of life.
According to the National Institute for Literacy, between 21 and 23 percent of the U.S. adult population can read a little but not well enough to fill out an application or read a food label. Statistics estimate there are more than 280,000 adults who have trouble reading in the Tristate region alone.
That’s a bleak picture that the Literacy Network of Greater Cincinnati is trying to change.
The nonprofit group serves as a contact center for more than 60 literacy programs that operate in 100 different sites. Since 1986, the Literacy Network has connected adults with programs that can improve their basic education and literacy skills.
“We work with a coalition of more than 100 literacy-provider agencies and more than 30 schools,” says Heidi Smith, the network’s development director. “We provide programs for children and adult tutors; we teach them to better serve the students.”
They offer student referrals through a literacy hotline, the recruitment and training of volunteer tutors, hosting provider meetings and providing literacy advocacy alerts. Also, it produces bimonthly electronic newsletters that give tutoring tips for teachers and volunteer tutors.
One of the groups served by the network is the Urban Appalachian Council, a nonprofit organization that that provides social services citywide. Services include GED training sessions, job readiness courses and tutoring for lower-level readers. Like many groups, the council relies on the Literacy Network to train their tutors, who mostly come from AmeriCorps staff.
Without the help from Literacy Network and AmeriCorps, programs like the council and the Over-the-Rhine Learning Center wouldn’t survive; they rely on volunteers to assist in the aiding the functionally illiterate.
“Functional illiteracy cost the U.S. an estimated $225 billion a year in lost
productivity, posing a special problem to business and industry,” says Kathy Ciarla, the network’s president.
According to Bonnie Hood-Smith, coordinator at the Urban Appalachian Council, people who were tutored through the Literacy Network are so affected by the help they receive they often become tutors themselves.
“They are one of the best organizations I know,” Hood-Smith says. “They train our AmeriCorps members to be tutors. They refer students to us and send tutors here. When you have 25 to 40 students a day, there are never enough tutors.”
In addition to referring and certifying tutors, the Literacy Network also has bimonthly forums called provider meetings. The sessions, designed for the roughly 60 free adult education programs in Greater Cincinnati, include guest speakers whose agencies share services available to adult education sites and creates task forces to solve current problems providers face like how to best serve visually impaired students.
“Every other month, we hold a provider meeting to share resources and best practices,” Hood-Smith says.
“The Literacy Network brings all of us together through meeting and fund-raisers,” says Leslie Cook, coordinator for the Over-the-Rhine Learning Center. “They are a great resource and are very accessible. We call them with any questions that we have and have received many tutors and students from them.”
Additionally, the network’s hotline helps about 1,500 people a year. Calls are received from adult learners, volunteer tutors and parents of children with reading problems.
“Anytime I have questions they are always there for me,” Hood-Smith says. “They are wonderful.”
The Literacy Network also provides two children’s reading programs. The Children’s Basic Reading Program provides reading instruction for first through fourth graders with learning disabilities, while the Cincinnati Reads Program recruits and trains reading tutors to work one-on-one with kindergarten through fourth graders in the public school system.
In order for the Literacy Network to continue these services they host fund-raisers such as the Scripps Spelling Bee for Literacy, sponsored by Great American Insurance Group. During the event, area corporations create teams and compete in an old-fashioned spelling bee, with the winner dubbed the “best speller of Cincinnati.”
If you or someone you know needs information or helping finding a tutor, contact the LITERACY NETWORK OF GREATER CINCINNATI through its hotline at 513-621-7323. Volunteers are available for reference 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and there is an answering machine to leave a message after-hours.