Editor’s note: This post is excerpted from a brief talk given by Turning Pages Director Chris Mathews, at the Reading Between the Wines fundraiser, held Thursday, June 6 at Main Street Café in Lexington, South Carolina for the benefit of Turning Pages. If you missed the fun, have no fear, we are planning a similar event for Thursday, September 12.
During one of my walks along the canal last week, I came into a stretch where the sun was glinting down hard. A large snapping turtle had made its way up the hill from the river almost to the path, but with all the runners, walkers, skaters, and dogs, this big fellow was definitely out of his element. As I watched him about 30 feet away, two runners passed him going my direction and another passed him coming the other way—all too busy to stop. The turtle was lost and couldn’t get where he wanted to go.
Then a girl on a bicycle drove up, stopped, kicked her kickstand, and carefully picked him up by his sides, ever so gently placing him on the grassy slope near the canal. I watched his slow march downhill towards the river as I passed him. When I turned around and walked back, he was gone.
Now what that girl on the bicycle did for that turtle is what I believe Turning Pages is doing for adults who lack literacy skills. No, we don’t teach turtles to read. We do, however, help adults empower themselves to pursue their dreams, to get where they need to go, by enabling them to read, write, speak and understand English, do math, use computers, and develop life skills. Like the girl on the bicycle, our volunteer tutors help our adult learners get on a path that is especially designed for their particular needs, whether it be to read the Bible, read a prescription, read a sign, fill out a job application, get a commercial driver’s license or a GED.
According to the National Center of Education Statistics, 15 % of adults in South Carolina lack basic literacy skills, which means that they are reading at or below the 3rd grade level. To reach functionally illiterate adults in Lexington and Richland counties, we need help. We need volunteers to work one-on-one or in small group with these learners to meet them at local libraries, at the Transitions Homeless Shelter at Main and Calhoun downtown, or at our learning center location at First Christian Church, 2062 S. Beltline twice a week for about 3 hours total.
We also need to spread the word that we are available for any adult learners, from special-need adults to the homeless to basic, intermediate, ESL, or GED-seeking learners. As our community pitches in by volunteering as tutors, or by donating funds as you have so graciously done tonight, we can effectively train more tutors, pay operating costs, purchase more books for our learners, hire more staff, and reach more adults in need of basic language skills.
We have been in existence since 1968 and with your help, like the girl on the bicycle helping the turtle, Turning Pages will continue to help adults in the Midlands find their way to their destinations. As learners become more literate, they improve their lives and those around them. We are thrice-blessed when we help others through literacy—the learners benefit, the tutors benefit, and our community benefits as the residual effects of illiteracy are beaten back.
Perhaps this quote best sums up our aspirations:
Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development, an essential complement to investments in roads, dams, clinics and factories. Literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. […] it is an agent of family health and nutrition. For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right… Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.” ~ Kofi Annan