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Improving life skills through literacy

They’re changing lives in cramped offices and at close quarters in public libraries on a mere $75,000 a year.

And it’s not just the students who benefit.

“Working with her is turning me on. It makes me feel good because I can help her achieve more of her potential, and she has great potential,” Ginny Ebey, a tutor for the adult Literacy Center, said of 21-year-old Mary Ann Brown.



Ebey is one of 75 volunteers who have been matched with an adult who wants one-on-one tutoring to help with their reading and writing as the Literacy Center celebrates its 10th year.

Their investment of two to three hours a week is literally changing lives, according to Alan Archer, the program coordinator.




“This is real life stuff,” Archer said from his small office in the Madelyn Helling Library which doubles as a classroom. “The more literate they become, the better jobs they get and they become literacy leaders in their families. That’s the only way to break the cycle.”

Archer estimates the Literacy Center has worked with 250 adults since he became the part-time coordinator three years ago. His staff, which consists of a part-timer at the library and another in Truckee, is working with 75 students on an annual budget of $75,000. The money comes from the state, the non-profit Friends of the Library and county government, which makes the largest contribution.

The students range in age from 19 to 77. About two-thirds are natives, while the rest are learning English as a second language, said Archer, adding that Department of Education studies have shown around 90 million Americans read at a grade school level or lower.

Most students have jobs and families but for different reasons didn’t finish high school or have been held back by reading disabilities like dyslexia or Attention Deficit Disorder, according to Archer.

“It’s almost never because of a lack of intelligence,” he said of those who enter the literacy program. “In many cases, they have skills that I wish I had, but I can read.”

Archer said it was his own encounters with illiterate workers, including a plant manager he once worked with, that motivated him to work at the Literacy Center.

“When I worked in industry I worked with a lot of people who didn’t have literacy skills and it was apparent that it was holding them back. So, here’s a chance to see if I can do something about what I’ve seen,” he said.

Archer said anyone who is interested in being tutored needs to contact the literacy center, which will do an assessment to determine what kind of tutoring is needed.

Brown, who entered the program several months ago after moving here from the Philippines, said the program has instilled her with the confidence to pursue a career as a nurse or medical care-giver.

“I want to improve my English so I can do more with my life,” she said.

To contact Staff Writer Pat Butler, e-mail pbutler@theunion.com or call 477-4239.


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