Literacy group celebrates 25 years

Published 9:14 pm Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Nathan Collins and his tutor, Hope Dunlow, pause for a photo after the Suffolk Literacy Council anniversary celebration on Tuesday.

Nathan Collins stood at the front of a room at the Pruden Center on Tuesday and spoke to a group of about 40 people, reading notes he had written himself.

That wouldn’t have been possible just three short years ago.

Up until beginning tutoring with a Suffolk Literacy Council tutor, Collins was functionally illiterate, even after serving 20 years in the U.S. Army and retiring as a master sergeant.

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“I look back and think what I could have accomplished if I could read,” he told the crowd gathered to celebrate the Suffolk Literacy Council’s 25th anniversary.

During his time in the military, Collins hid his illiteracy by talking his way out of situations, creating his own shorthand and finding reasons to pass work on to others.

He declined to apply for further promotions because “I knew it would come out that I couldn’t read,” he said.

A couple years ago, however, someone he worked with at his civilian job caught on and embarrassed him in front of several co-workers. That’s when he finally decided to get help.

“I took that negative input and turned it into something positive,” he said.

He began working with Hope Dunlow, a tutor with the Suffolk Literacy Council. He reflected upon the many benefits of being able to read.

“It’s a good feeling to sit down and read a book and my head doesn’t hurt,” he said.

Tutor Hope Dunlow, who was honored at the event for having been a volunteer the entire 25 years, said she is proud of her student.

“He has done a marvelous job,” she said.

His story embodied the reason for the literacy council’s existence. Volunteer tutors meet with students once or twice a week, using the Laubach Way to Reading curriculum to teach.

“It’s so exciting to be part of the Suffolk Literacy Council,” new tutor coordinator Jessica Reitz said. “It’s really exciting to be in an organization that is fueled by the passion, dedication and creativity of volunteers.”

The council’s new services include classes in English as a second language and basic math skills. The council hopes to add financial literacy workshops soon, as well as develop programs with the Western Tidewater Regional Jail and the Children’s Center, to serve the parents there.

Delegate Chris Jones, who was the first treasurer of the organization, was the featured speaker on Tuesday. According to statistics he presented, service at the jail would be sorely needed.

“Eighty-five percent of all juveniles interfacing with the court system are functionally illiterate,” he said. The same goes for 60 percent of adult prison inmates.

“Illiteracy and crime are closely related,” he said. “We take for granted the things that we have.”

Lynda Kennedy, a volunteer at the council, said the organization is looking for more volunteers and students.

“I think it’s so important,” she said. “It takes so much guts for someone to come forward as an adult and say, ‘I need help.’”

For more information on the Suffolk Literacy Council, visit