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You’re never too old to learn to read

September 15, 2012
By Maria Burke , Literacy Volunteers of Essex/Franklin Counties

In the blink of an eye, the summer has passed and it is, again, back-to-school season. During this time of the year, many families focus on their children's education, but not much thought is given to adult education and how it impacts our individual homes or our communities. Believe it or not, there are approximately 30 million adults in the United States who function at or below basic literacy level (U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy). These individuals can perform only the simplest tasks, such as signing a form. In New York state, one out of five adults falls in this category.

Many low-literacy learners find ways to hide their reading challenges from their co-workers and friends, even their own families. Common avoidance techniques include finding an excuse to steer clear of reading aloud, hiding their writing from others, not completing forms in the presence of others or committing everything to memory to avoid jotting things down.

Yet there is hope for these individuals. A classroom may not have been the best educational environment, but there are literacy organizations throughout New York state that provide one-on-one assistance for these low-literacy learners. Literacy Volunteers of Essex/Franklin Counties is a community-based, charitable organization that provides student-centered instruction for adult learners. Whether a student's goal is it read to his or her children, obtain a high school equivalence degree, become a citizen of the United States or gain employment, we support each learner by enabling him or her to achieve personal goals through literacy.

Approximately 4,000 people in Essex County and 5,000 in Franklin County lack the basic literacy skills to function in today's society. The correlation between poverty, education and employment has been documented and proven in multiple studies.

"A person's level of education is a predictor of earnings - in general, the more education, the larger the earning potential (U.S. Census Bureau)." According to the Summary of Health and Human Service Needs in Clinton, Essex and Franklin Counties (2010), the poverty level for Essex County was 13 percent and 16 percent for Franklin County (2.5 percent above the state average) in 2008.

Literacy Volunteers of Essex/Franklin Counties is addressing this problem locally with individualized reading instruction for over 150 students, including neighbors in your community, inmates at local prisons, and foreign-born workers in local businesses. A majority of these students have shown academic gains and higher reading levels during the past year. Four students received their citizenship and many others improved their reading, writing and speaking skills. Others graduated from English-as-a-second-language (ESL) classes and moved on to the Basic Literacy Program to further improve their reading and writing skills.

Literacy Volunteers of Essex/Franklin Counties welcomes your assistance in providing these critical services. Along with badly needed financial support, we welcome your volunteer participation as tutors, public advocates, recruiters of eligible students, test administrators and board members. The organization sponsors fundraising events in various locations throughout the year, including our Run for Reading on Sunday, Sept. 23, at Cadyville Rec Park, co-sponsored with Literacy Volunteers of Clinton County, and a dinner and silent auction in Malone on Sept. 28.

We greatly appreciate your support of this crucial community service. To obtain additional information, to make a donation, to contribute as a volunteer or to receive our newsletters, you can contact our central office in Port Henry at 518-546-3008, our Malone office at 518-483-9366 or our Tri-Lakes office at 518-891-5567. (Donations can be forwarded to Literacy Volunteers at 3265 Broad St., Port Henry, NY 12974, or online at


Maria Burke is the director of Literacy Volunteers of Essex/Franklin Counties, based in Port Henry.



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