Read Into It

 Photo by Kris Hanning

“We transform lives,” says Betty Stauffer, executive director of Literacy Connects. “We are committed to improving our community through literacy. We want to increase awareness of the need for literacy and get more people involved.”
Literacy Connects was formed in 2011 when five literacy organizations joined forces. “We did not merge because of overlap,” Stauffer stresses. “We all do different things relating to literacy. The merger was to offer a continuum of services covering birth through adulthood. We see ourselves as the platform on which many organizations can connect on literacy projects.”
The five programs that make up Literacy Connects are:
• Literacy for Life Coalition, established in 2008: a coalition of 35 government, non-profit, business, media, funding and educational organizations
• Literacy Volunteers of Tucson, est. in 1961: volunteers teach adults to read, write and speak English
• Reach Out and Read Southern Arizona, est. 2000: serves children from birth through five years of age. The program partners with doctors to prescribe books and encourage families to read together.
• Reading Seed, est. 1995: volunteer Reading Coaches work one-on-one with students in grades 1 through 3 to improve their reading skills
• Stories that Soar!, est. 2002: professional performers bring children’s original stories to life.
Although it hasn’t happened yet, the goal is for all five organizations to converge in one building; that way there is only one door people need to walk through for help or to volunteer.
There is no overestimating the need for these types of programs.
“There is a huge literacy problem in the United States,” says Stauffer. “Forty-three percent of adults read at basic (fifth grade) level or below. If parents can’t read, they don’t read to their children, and that interaction is so important. We work with pediatricians to give books to children at well-baby checkups and talk to parents about the importance of reading to their kids. Adults blossom as the world opens to them when they learn to read, and this trickles down to their children.
“Here in Tucson, 40 percent of third graders are not reading at their grade level, and according to a new state law, the students cannot pass to fourth grade if they can’t read,” Stauffer relates. To help these students learn to read, Reading Seed coaches work one-on-one with students in grades one through three.
“In 2011-2012, 2,500 Tucson-area children had a Reading Seed coach, but we need to double the program. Literacy is learned; illiteracy is passed on from generation to generation, and we are breaking that cycle. We just need to break it with more families.
“Although literacy doesn’t guarantee success, it can be the foundation for a successful life. Being illiterate does not mean you will fail, but it is much harder to be successful.
“Literacy is more than just reading; it is being able to speak English and do math. We also teach writing — there are so many college students who cannot write a decent paragraph.
“Literacy Connects makes a difference. We get parents geared up to read to their kids. We get elementary school students excited about reading and writing. With Stories that Soar! students see their stories come to life. When adults get up the courage to come in and admit they cannot read, we help them find their voice and the skills they need to get a job.”  
Volunteers are always needed to tutor adults, serve as reading coaches, deliver books to doctors’ offices and help with office work. “We totally depend on our volunteers and the generosity of donors to keep our doors open,” Stauffer notes.
Volunteers come from all walks of life and go through orientation or training. “Volunteers just need the desire and the time to help. We can teach them how to do it. You do not need to speak Spanish or any of the foreign languages spoken by the people from 32 countries that came to us for help last year.”
The time commitment for volunteers depends on the program. Adult tutoring is the most labor intensive; you teach classes in teams. Reading coaches are asked to spend a half-hour each with two students a week. One reading coach worked with 55 students over the course of a school year!  
“We are 90 percent private grass roots funded and totally rely on the generosity of the community.” The $1.5 million budget is primarily funded through donations, foundation grants, and two small contracts with Pima County. Literacy Connects’ major fundraiser will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, at the Dou
bletree Hilton at Reid Park. It is an hour-long mission-driven event held at breakfast and lunch (there also may be an evening reception this year). There is no cost to attend, but you must register ahead of time. “The hope is that you will want to write a check to cover more than the cost of the meal!” Stauffer concludes.
To learn more or to volunteer, call 882-8006 or visit www.literacyconnects.org.      — Wendy Sweet


Literacy Connects Volunteer Fair
Saturday Aug. 11, 2012
9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
2850 E. Speedway.
This is a chance to see all of the available volunteer options.