Imagine life if you couldn't read a driver's license test, help a child with first grade homework or fill out a job application. Alameda Reads, a program of the Alameda Free Library, helps local residents overcome problems like these.
The program is in the news because the nonprofit , recently voted to donate $10,000 to the literacy program, helping close a gap left by cuts in funding from the California State Library and keeping the program alive at least through the end of 2011. (More about the program's budget crisis here.)
Alameda Reads assists anyone age 18 and older. There are currently 50 learners in the program, ranging in age from 19 to 85. Participants must have mastery of English — the program is not set up for people learning English.
Learners receive help with reading, writing, critical thinking and goal- setting. Some come to the program because they have an undiagnosed learning disability, others dropped out of school.
“Many were failed by a school system at some point in their life that just passed them through,” said Sue Mark, the literacy program director.
For many, it requires courage to sign up and ask for help. "People often reach a point where they realize something needs to change and only then do they call us," Mark said.
“Right now we are seeing a lot of long-term unemployed people or people who only can find temporary jobs. They are coming to us because they see they need help to be competitive.”
Some of the practical life skills learners need assistance in mastering include filling out medical forms; passing a driving test; filling out job applications; reading a bus map; passing a General Education Degree exam; voting; or helping children with homework. Some need help with the alphabet.
Although some people in the program have learning disabilities, Mark said Alameda Reads does not test or diagnose them. Instead, it offers customized tutoring geared to individual participants and their learning styles.
“This one-on-one tutoring has a strong domino effect,” Mark said. She said learners gain confidence that can lead to all kinds of positive change in their lives.
Tutors are at the heart of the program
Currently the program has 40 volunteer tutors, and 14 more will be trained soon.
Tutors commit to a 12-hour training and agree to tutor someone for at least six months. Tutoring sessions are held at the main library, at the Alameda Reads office or in cafes. Literacy training is available seven days a week.
Mark meets with prospective learners before they come into the program to help identify their needs.
Program is more than just one-on-one tutoring
Alameda Reads also offers small-group classes, including a book club, a class on how to read the newspaper and another one on how to set goals and budget time.
Increasing visibility to highlight program's importance
“If the literacy program were to end,” said Mark, “it would be a significant loss. There is no other place for adult learners to get supportive, confidential one-on-one free tutoring.”
To increase the program’s visibility, Mark recently celebrated International Literacy Day on Sept. 8 by inviting the public to create a “Window of Words” on the library’s window. The event was supposed to last one day, but was so popular it continued over an entire week. Visitors wrote their favorite words on sticky notes and posted them on the window. A couple of hundred words were received.
Informational panels have been sprinkled around the main library's second floor. They highlight the many reasons people seek out the literacy program. The displays will remain up through early October.
“We fill an important void,” said Mark.
Alameda Reads accepts monetary donations from the general public. Checks may be made payable to "Alameda Reads" and sent to its office at 2203 Central Ave., Room 350 Alameda, CA 94501. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 510-865-2454.