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Literacy gets a boost from United Way

By K.C. Scott

Rowan County Literacy Council

At a recent United Way training, attendees were told a story about a villager walking along a river and coming across a baby in the river. The villager saved the baby, but soon found another. Then another. The babies in the river kept coming, needing to be rescued. Upon further inspection, it was found that the source of all these babies in the river was an ogre just continually tossing them out in the water. While the babies needed to be saved, the ogre also needed to be dealt with.

What do unemployment, poverty and crime have in common? High illiteracy rates.

Before I drop the mic, let me explain a little further. Think of the last time you went a day without reading something: a street sign, a menu, a prescription, your child’s field trip form. Chances are high that you have never had a day where reading wasn’t essential to your daily activities, but for approximately 23,000 adults in Rowan County, that’s their reality.

• Children whose parents have low literacy skills have a 72 percent chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves. These children are likely to get bad grades, exhibit behavioral problems, consistently miss school, and are in danger of dropping out.

• Some 70 percent of adult welfare recipients have low literacy levels. It’s hard to be gainfully employed with low reading skills. There are companies in Rowan County that require a literacy assessment before they can enter even entry level jobs.

• And 75 percent of state prison inmates have not completed high school/can be classified as low literate. When you are unable to provide for yourself through employment, you have to find other ways to survive. Research has shown that educated inmates are 43 percent less likely to return to prison, whereas those with low literacy levels have a 70 percent chance of reincarceration.

Not so great statistics, right? Thanks to United Way, this tiny nonprofit is trying to make a dent in our community. The Literacy Council provide programs that cover all ages and levels of reading. Whether you’re a first-grader who has a low reading level, a 30-something trying to complete the GED, or in your 60s and wanting to read to grandkids, we’ve got you covered.

The funding and support that we receive from United Way is beyond priceless. Being a tiny nonprofit with no government funding has significant challenges, and we have learned to stretch a dollar further than you’d think was possible. (We also have mad negotiating skills — just ask our vendors). But knowing United Way has our back relieves some of the urgency that is always present in any nonprofit agency.

Right now is everyone’s favorite time of the year — United Way campaign season. Volunteers have set out to raise $1.6 million, and their success directly impacts the funding that their 16 member agencies receive, including the Rowan County Literacy Council. Funds from United Way make up close to 30 percent of our agency’s annual budget. This funding goes towards purchasing quality learning materials for tutors and students, and testing and assessment software. It also ensures that our programs remain free for all our students.

So this campaign season, if you are approached to give, know that you’re giving to organizations who are committed to not only saving those who need our help as they come through our doors, but to ending illiteracy in Rowan County and making the community a healthier, happier, safer and more productive place.

Scott is executive director of the Rowan County Literacy Council.

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