CUMMING – The 60-year-old man had worked his family’s farm his whole life and never learned to read fluently. His mother was illiterate. He was ready to make a change.
“How brave of him to reach out to us,” said Lorraine Stewart, executive director of Literacy Forsyth.
Literacy Forsyth, a nonprofit community partnership created to address the issues of adult literacy in Forsyth County, offers one-on-one tutoring to low-level reading or non-reading adults and gives them the opportunity to understand the world around them. Some of the youngest in the program are high school dropouts between the ages of 30 and 45, but as young as 19 years old, who want to make a change in their lives.
The program also helps fund English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and General Education Development prep classes through the Adult Learning Center at Lanier Technical College.
“You’re the last to be hired and the first to go if you don’t have a GED certificate,” Stewart said. “The GED is a stepping stone. It’s your entry ticket.”
All Literacy Forsyth programs are confidential and free to county residents.
Literacy Forsyth is managed by an all-volunteer Board of Directors. Tutors also volunteer their time to work with students. Stewart is the program’s only employee.
The GED and ESL classes are held at donated classrooms throughout the county inside churches, Lanier Technical College’s adult learning center and Forsyth County public schools. Fundraising events, United Way of Forsyth County, Automation Direct, Norman’s Landing restaurant and many others have funded the program’s books, supplies and teachers.
It costs $95 to take a GED test, but through Literacy Forsyth, a student may qualify for a scholarship funded by Sawnee Electric to cover this test fee.
Some of those whom Literacy Forsyth helps are immigrants – who have proof of legal U.S. residency. They may need to polish their language skills to help to lose their accent, get a job or perhaps they are working on their citizenship.
In addition, Literacy Forsyth provides books for the GED education programs at Forsyth County’s jail.
“Inmates can study and get their GED and enter some sort of training program and get a decent job.
“Hopefully we can reset, and get an inmate to say, ‘I want to get into a legitimate field,’” Stewart said. “That’s a real second chance.”
Recently, Forsyth County was recognized for having a successful and sustainable adult education program.
In November, the State Board of the Technical College System of Georgia awarded Forsyth County its Certified Literate Community status.
To earn this recognition for the county, Literacy Forsyth was challenged to reach a 10-year goal of elevating literacy rates among a targeted adult population. Stewart said the goal of serving 7,300 adults was reached within six years.
Forsyth County is the 29th county in state to earn the distinction of Certified Literate Community.
A quarterly volunteer orientation session was held Saturday, Feb. 12. Tutors were on hand to share their experiences with those who wanted to volunteer.
Some of the volunteers are previous educators. Some have been working as substitute teachers, but most volunteers are just concerned citizens who believe that the ability to read is essential to participate in our society. Volunteers have to be at least 22 years of age and have a “genuine desire to succeed.”
“It’s 90 percent caring about the person you are working with and 10 percent about applying the techniques,” Stewart said.
And while some Forsyth County volunteer programs can rely on someone’s brawn, Literacy Forsyth pushes a volunteer’s cerebral thinking.
“This volunteer opportunity really uses your mind and stretches your imagination,” Stewart said.
Volunteers tutors are asked to commit for a year and meet with their students for one to two hours a week. The volunteers are also asked to attend quarterly meetings and go through daylong training courses.
“We realize that it’s difficult for the volunteer to make a yearlong commitment,” Stewart said. “But it’s important to the student.”
Setting their goal
The adult literacy program dates back to 1993 and has gone through many name changes over the years, but its mission to educate adults in the county has remained constant.
Students set their goal. Some stay for years, while others reach their goals sooner and leave the program.
“Some students come to us and say they want to read to their children,” Stewart said. “Some students want to read the newspaper.”
Stewart said there’s no one set curriculum that meets the different needs of every student, but there are proven techniques and processes tutors use to help adults learn to read.
While a child is great at parroting, an adult needs to relate new information to what they already know, she said.
“When we work with adults, we go to their strengths and we make sure it’s relevant to them,” Stewart said.
For more information, visit www.literacyforsyth.com