Reading leads to success

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Being able to have a casual conversation with the cashier at Walmart may not sound like something to aspire to, but for our neighbors who have yet to master the English language, speaking to the cashier is a big deal.

How about getting your cash from the ATM? Or, going to the doctor and being able to explain how and where you hurt? Not a biggie for you and me, but, again, huge for people who are struggling to learn English.

While these tasks may seem small, or even petty to some, they are downright daunting for many of the men and women who reach out to the Clay County Literacy Coalition every day for help.

If you were fortunate enough to be born and raised in the U.S., chances are high that you can balance a check book, apply for a loan, conduct a job search and read a book. Not to mention, carry on a conversation in English.

In other words, we take for granted the basic things that allow us to be self-sufficient contributing members of the community. We can hold a job, take out a loan, raise children and pay taxes, etc. However, these are not easy tasks for speakers of other languages.

That’s what the Clay County Literacy Coalition does. It’s the only nonprofit serving adults in Clay County who need help learning how to read. But, more than that, the Coalition changes people’s lives.

It’s also the only nonprofit in Clay County that helps our neighbors become U.S. citizens as well. On Monday, Board President Darling Stokes thanked some of the Coalition’s 22 tutors with a luncheon to cheer them on, hear their success stories and keep them motivated to keep helping others.

One tutor, who lives in Jacksonville, is a retired electrical engineer who had a successful career in Silicon Valley. He currently tutors more than 20 students in mathematics each week.

Another tutor is currently helping a man from Vietnam learn English, so he can get a better job, become a citizen and fulfill his plan to get married.

These stories usually go untold in the same manner that you and I hardly ever encounter the men and women who need these services. They remain the hidden. They hardly will look at you in the Walmart or try to say hi in passing because they feel like outsiders. But, in reality, they want the same things you and I want.

At one point, when I was a Literacy Coalition tutor, the Coalition served men and women who – when combined – spoke 48 languages other than English.

And guess what? The need hardly ever goes away. There are men and women constantly asking for help with some aspect of literacy, but there are not enough tutors to go around.

My hope is that someone reading this today will see it and become moved to commit at least one hour a week to tutor someone in need. And the best part about it is that the Coalition will provide free tutor training, teaching materials and provide you support along the way.

If you enjoy the rights and privileges we share as Americans, one of the greatest gifts we could ever give someone is to help them become a citizen as well.

Why does the Literacy Coalition get involved in Citizenship training? Because conversational English is a key facet of the U.S. Citizenship test.

“If the applicant generally understands and responds meaningfully to questions relevant to his or her naturalization eligibility, then he or she has sufficiently demonstrated the ability to speak English,” according to the Department of Homeland Security website.

Stokes is also on the lookout for men and women who would like to serve on the Coalition’s board of directors. So, if tutoring may not speak to you, perhaps helping raise money and helping strengthen the organization is for you.

Either way, you have a chance to help change someone’s life.

You can reach Stokes at dstokesclaylit@gmail.com or at the office at (904)336-4458.

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