Helping people to stop hiding

Published 10:54 pm Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Most folks go through life reading street signs, examining the ingredients lists on food packaging, signing checks and doing all manner of other things hundreds of times per day that depend on their ability to read and write.

Far too many of us take these abilities for granted. Somebody, usually a teacher at school, taught us to do them in the distant past, long enough ago that even young adults barely remember not knowing how to read or write.

I admit that I sometimes also take these abilities for granted. But I try to pause every now and then to marvel at the human brain’s ability to see these strange shapes written on paper and make sense of them, and also to direct the hand how to form those shapes so somebody else can make sense of them.

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As a purveyor of a product that is created by writing and consumed by reading, and also as a lifelong avid reader, literacy is important to me. That is why I was so excited to attend the Suffolk Literacy Council’s 25th anniversary celebration on Oct. 30. The organization recruits volunteer tutors and matches them up with adults who seek help learning how to read and write better.

One of the council’s students, Nathan Collins, spoke at the event. A 20-year U.S. Army veteran who retired as a master sergeant, he sought help from the council about two years ago.

At first, I understood Mr. Collins to say that he could not read at all, and that he made his way through his Army duties by creating his own shorthand and passing work on to others. I have since learned Mr. Collins actually could read some — roughly at a third-grade level — when he first sought help, but was having trouble reading.

According to Jessica Reitz, volunteer coordinator for the council, Mr. Collins’ situation is not unusual. Many adults who seek help are able to read some and can hold good jobs, but often shy away from opportunities like Bible studies and group meetings at work where they might have to read aloud.

“They come because they are tired of always hiding,” Reitz wrote in an email.

According to the Suffolk Literacy Council, one in five adults in Suffolk lacks basic functional reading skills. This means more than 10,000 of your neighbors are unable to read the directions on a medicine bottle or read a bedtime story to their child.

I hope Mr. Collins’ story has inspired someone else who is having trouble reading to get help from the Suffolk Literacy Council. It’s free, and tutors also are available to help with math and English as a second language.

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