The Literacy Program is sponsored by a grant from the California Library Literacy Service. Program coordinator Mary Jane Bolton prefers to use the term “learning” instead of “literacy,” since the term is more user-friendly to those seeking its services. “Most of our clients don’t read, so word of mouth is how we attract most students,” Bolton said.

Imagine being unable to help your children with their math homework, understand instructions for your prescriptions, or follow directions in a job manual. According to a US Department of Education five-year study of adult literacy, 21 to 23% of adult Americans face these challenges daily. The National Institute for Literacy reports that 70% of state and federal prisoners are illiterate, and 85% of juvenile offenders are either functionally or marginally illiterated, 43% of those with the lowest literacy skills live in poverty.

Yearly, at least two million functionally illiterate adults enter the ranks of Americans unable to read. In Siskiyou County the Literacy/Learning Program is working to address this problem.

The Literacy Program is sponsored by a grant from the California Library Literacy Service. Program coordinator Mary Jane Bolton prefers to use the term “learning” instead of “literacy,” since the term is more user-friendly to those seeking its services. “Most of our clients don’t read, so word of mouth is how we attract most students,” Bolton said.

When the program began in 2008, its emphasis was upon teaching basic reading, writing, and math skills, but the emphasis has evolved to helping learners gain skills necessary to pass the GED, earn special employment licenses, and master skills for promotion.

“We’ve changed the focus, as that’s where the need is,” Bolton said. “We respond to the learner’s goals, whatever they are. We have a variety of students. Several nine to 12 year olds come with their parents for help with school subjects. The tutor teaches the student how to work with the subject and teaches the parent or responsible adult how to help the child.”

“It’s an open entry and exit program for tutors and learners, not like school at all. Learners get one-on-one help, usually once or twice weekly and we provide the materials to help the learner reach his goals. Once I’ve screened the learner, I pair him with a tutor. They set up their schedule and meet where it’s mutually convenient, like a library, COS, a church, the resource center, or coffee shop,” Bolton added.

Since July, 24 tutors, who volunteer their time, have worked over 400 hours with 30 students. “When students complete their goals, they stop coming and new students come in. What our tutors do is significant; they’re changing people’s lives!” Bolton exclaimed.

The course for tutor training has been offered three times yearly since the Program’s inception. A new course, READ 60, begins Monday, February 28th at COS. “It’s a nine plus hour distance learning class that meets four Mondays from 7-9:15 p.m.” Bolton said. “Tutors can attend either site.”  Anyone interested in helping others become more literate is welcome.  High school or college students earn community service experience. “That looks good on a college application.”

“The course has a reading base; additionally I teach how to teach,” Bolton said. The class needs 15 students ‘to go’ at COS; however, if Bolton has fewer than 15, she trains tutors herself. “It’s an important service, one supported by community. Right now there are no funds in the state budget, but since this is a volunteer program and we’ve used grant money to purchase all materials, we’ll keep going.” Each Siskiyou County library has a basic set of tutoring materials and volunteers.

Sherrill Moore has tutored since 2009. “I’ve helped people in their 20’s and 30’s get their GEDs and worked with a man in his 50’s who updated his resume. Right now I’m working with three nine year old girls. I love what I’m doing; it really benefits the community.” Moore said. “Tutoring is very satisfying.  I get more out of it than my students do.”

“I’ve worked with mature adults in transition,” JoAn Saltzen said. “They graduated from high school, but now need to refresh their skills and build confidence.” Saltzen became a tutor after the 2008 election. “I realized then how difficult life was becoming for low and middle income people. I want to use my skills to help.”

“The Program is very effective,” Saltzen added. “Some people might feel they aren’t qualified to tutor, but I urge them to think of what skills they have and be willing to share. Take a chance and try; if it doesn’t work, you can quit. In the meantime, you can change someone’s life for the better, and yours, too.”

Getting the word out to potential learners is a real challenge, Bolton and many tutors agree. “I’ve got the training and am ready to go,” Betty Petri noted. “Those who need this program can’t read about it,” Bolton said. “We’re going to use radio; we’re exploring other options, too. We’ve got a great program; all people need do is step forward.” Bolton may be reached at 459-0822.