ELKHART — Adults who struggle to read now have a place to go to learn basic literacy skills.
The Learning Generation Initiative and Elkhart Community Schools' adult and community education department are now offering what organizers understand to be the only adult literacy class in Elkhart County and are looking for volunteer tutors to also help adults learning to read.
The class began in September and has already made a major impact on Rosie Taylor's life.
Taylor, 54, dropped out of her Chicago high school during her sophomore year as a teenager, but is now working through general education diploma (GED) classes and the adult literacy course to pursue some of her life goals.
“I got tired of living at the bottom of the barrel,” she said. “I wanted to improve my living condition, my personality and to be a good role model for my grandchildren.”
“I want to go to college,” she said. Taylor has done homecare for elderly individuals and would like to become a medical assistant, she said.
“My grandson — he and I do homework together and he points out when I get something wrong,” she said.
Being able to read and do homework with any of her 12 grandkids is a blessing, she said. “I cry happy tears.”
She encouraged other adults who know they're struggling with reading to take action and enroll in the class or pursue education in some way.
“It's sad when you can pick up a paper and you can't read it or can't read all of it,” she said. When able to read, “you become a better citizen, a role model for whoever's watching you.”
The two local groups developed the Elkhart Literacy Project with the help of a grant from the Elkhart County Community Foundation.
“I consider it one of our greatest needs as a community,” said Kathy Royer, executive director of the Learning Generation Initiative (LGI). “It can also be a very satisfying volunteer opportunity. It can be very rewarding to see someone move from illiteracy to fluency.”
Royer said that between LGI and Elkhart Community Schools' adult students, at least 15 percent read at or below a third-grade reading level.
LGI is a partner with a national organization, ProLiteracy, which reports that of adults older than age 16 in the United States, 14 percent read at or below a fifth-grade reading level.
Royer said the literacy students are a diverse group, with young adults and older individuals from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Some of the students speak English as a second language, while several grew up speaking English, but never perfected their reading skills.
Taylor and a few other students in the class applauded literacy teacher Beth Suderman, who retired last year from teaching English at Pierre Moran Middle School, for her teaching style and care for her students.
Community volunteers who are able to work one-on-one with the students will speed up the students' grasp of the concepts and add to the students' motivation, Suderman said.
Organizers are hoping to have 30 people trained by the end of June to be reading tutors, but that they could use even more volunteers.
Volunteers will all go through a training workshop and will meet at least one hour per week with an adult learner to provide support and encouragement to students who need an extra hand to help them attain literacy skills, according to information from the Elkhart Literacy Project. The project's volunteer coordinator, Carol Hemund, will also provide ongoing support to the tutors.
To learn more about becoming a tutor or to learn more about classes for adults to learn basic reading or math skills, contact either Learning Generation Initiative at 866-898-3908 or Elkhart Community Schools' office of adult and community education at 574-262-5678.
Deb Weaver, director of adult and community education for Elkhart Community Schools, noted that with so much focus on education for younger students, “adults in the community kind of get left behind. This is going to benefit younger students as well. This will really begin a good cycle.”