Illiteracy Holding Back a Better Life for Many
BY HANNAH SHARPE
Moore County Literacy Council executive director Susan Sherard does not mince words when describing illiteracy as a "silent epidemic."
In Moore County, an estimated 22 percent of adults lack basic reading and writing skills, according to the CASAS Adult Literacy Estimate.
"Illiteracy is prevalent," Sherard said. "There is a whole category of adult who really has no services because they're too old to go back to school and, in many cases, are either not skilled enough to sit in a pre-GED classroom, or they're working one or two jobs and don't have the schedule to devote to a classroom-type learning situation. That's where we come in."
The Literacy Council provides free tutoring to adults seeking to improve their literacy skills. Volunteer tutors work individually with students at the Read Moore Center, the organization's main office, in Southern Pines or at other sites around the county - St. Mary Magdalene Church in Seven Lakes, as well as libraries in Carthage, Southern Pines, Vass and West End.
Last year, the organization served 129 students. Some hope to earn a high school equivalency certificate. Others, from foreign countries, want to read and write in English. Some just want to know the pleasure of reading, but all seek a better life.
A 2011 report released by the N.C. Commission on Workforce Development says that the need for specialized training paired with low education in workers has yielded a workforce that is ill-equipped to meet the future demands for labor.
Those without a high school diploma have been most vulnerable to unemployment during the recession, and most new jobs created require workers to have at least some college education.
Before the recession, the Pee Dee Region and Regional Partnership Workforce Boards recognized illiteracy as a major challenge for Moore County and its neighbors in the boards' 2005 "State of the Workforce Report," calling it a "hindrance to growth."
The Literacy Council is a safety net for many residents, but Sherard sees the need for a broader resource supporting adults who don't fit the mold of a college graduate.
"They are people who are hard workers," she said. "They have jobs or want jobs. They're capable. I just keep asking myself, 'What is a path for them toward employment?'"
"There's a path for them here toward learning," she continued, "But is there a place in the world for a really good worker who reads at the seventh-grade level and doesn't have an up-to-date computer at home? What can be done that allows that person to show their worth, their true worth?"
Though she expects to see literacy rates increase in the future, Sherard also sees a parent's illiteracy detrimentally affect their child's academic potential, which could prolong the epidemic.
"What we see are the connections between parents who don't read or write well and children struggling," she said. "That's where we're trying to make a difference. There's an automatic hurdle built in - doesn't mean people don't get over it, but it's there. It's a reality."
To learn more about the Literacy Council, call the Read Moore Center at (910) 692-5954, or visit www.mcliteracy.com.
Contact Hannah Sharpe at (910) 693-2485 or -hannah@thepilot. com.
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