Strength in numbers: Five groups join together for Literacy Connects

Posted: Friday, October 21, 2011 7:00 am | Updated: 9:28 am, Thu Oct 20, 2011. By Carol West

Last May, five literacy group boards voted to combine their efforts to promote a strong literacy movement in Southern Arizona. Literacy for Life Coalition, Reach Out and Read, Reading Seed, Stories that Soar and Literacy Volunteers of Tucson are now under one umbrella organization, Literacy Connects. They serve everyone from from infants to adults.

The familiar saying, “there is strength in numbers” applies here. These groups were doing great work, but by joining together, they have become a powerful entity that can “develop more resources, serve more people, and do more good” in our community. It is anticipated that the merger will attract additional volunteers and an increase in dollars through community contributions and grants that were unavailable in the past.

Each of the five groups will continue to do its own mission-driven work.

Literacy Volunteer’s executive director, Betty Stauffer, is the director of Literacy Connects. The other leaders continue to be the program directors of their specific organizations. Literacy Connects provides a timely opportunity to improve the literacy rates in Southern Arizona.

The five Literacy Connects programs are each unique in the communities they serve:

  • Reach Out and Read prepares children through age 5 to succeed in school by partnering with physicians and other medical personnel to “prescribe books and encourage families to read together.”
  • Reading Seed recruits volunteer reading coaches to assist children in grades 1 through 3 who are reading below grade level. Last year 2,500 children in nine school districts in the region were served by 1,000 volunteers.
  • Stories that Soar is a literacy and performing arts program that brings children’s original stories to life through the talents of professional performers. One youngster whose story was dramatized said, “It was the proudest day of my life.”
  • Literacy for Life Coalition was established by 35 government, nonprofit, business, media, educational, and funding organizations intent upon increasing the literacy level in our community to ensure a prosperous economy and an improved quality of life for everyone in Tucson. Its most successful program highlighted neighborhoods where trained female adult peers worked together to improve their literacy rates while studying for high school general equivalency diplomas (GED). These high school graduates can then qualify for better-paying jobs.
  • Literacy Volunteers of Tucson is celebrating its 50th birthday this year. The organization’s key programs include basic literacy and English language acquisition for adults. In 2009-2010, there were 1,904 students enrolled and tutored by 514 volunteers. There are always more students in need of this program. The merger has helped tap more tutors to assist more people.

What can we do to help? The combined Literacy Connects resolves to form “a culture of literacy” in our community. We can assist with this transformation by volunteering time in these fine programs.

We can also contribute to a better community by sharing our financial resources. The Thomas R. Brown Family Foundation will match dollar for dollar our undesignated contributions to Literacy Connects. To contribute online go to www.literacyconnects.org.

David C. Harvey, president and CEO of the national literacy advocacy organization ProLiteracy, says the Southern Arizona merger is the most exciting literacy venture in the country. Harvey will be the keynote speaker Nov. 15 at a Literacy Connects event.

The events will be at the Doubletree Hotel Tucson at Reid Park, 445 S. Alvernon Way, starting with breakfast at 7 a.m. for early risers. There is also a luncheon. For reservations, contact Literacy Connects at (520) 882-8006.

“Arizona has one of the highest school drop-out rates in the country, with one in five adults considered functionally illiterate,” says Stauffer, also pointing out that “75 percent of prison inmates don’t have a high school diploma. Let us position the literacy movement as essential to the economic development of Tucson and the well-being of its citizens.”

Contact Carol West at cwwfoster@aol.com. West served on the Tucson City Council from 1999-2007 and was a council aide from 1987-1995. West is also a substitute teacher for Literacy Volunteers.