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November 28, 2015
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Literacy Volunteers of Sullivan County: The gift that keeps on giving

MONTICELLO, NY — It’s easy to take basic skills that we learn in school for granted, and I assumed that if I had mastered those skills at an early age, others must have as well. Shortly after moving to the Catskills, I became aware of some startling statistics, including the fact that there are thousands of adults in this country struggling with the ability to read and write. Determined to become a part of the solution, I perused the local papers and discovered the Literacy Volunteers of Sullivan County (LVSC).

I’ve yet to run across anyone who was unwilling, in theory, to volunteer their time in pursuit of helping those less fortunate—yet when it came time for me to “step up to the plate,” I hesitated. Having placed a call to the LVSC, located at 63 North Street in Monticello, I had a lengthy conversation with the center’s director, Connie Keller, who has been with the organization since the beginning.

“What would your life be like if you couldn’t read?” she asked me. “The simplest things—deciphering directions to a destination, filling out a form at the doctor’s office, or following a recipe—are all impossible without the ability to read. It’s a handicap, almost like being blind,” she said. This statement threw me, since I honestly had not given it much thought, having developed a love for reading and writing at an early age, and had parents who cared, a good education and advantages that are not readily available for everybody.

“Volunteers are the backbone of our organization,” Keller said, “but like most things worth doing, it requires determination, dedication and the giving of one’s time.”

When asked what prompted her personal mission, Keller was impassioned about the cause. “Back in 1994, while working at the Crawford Library in Monticello, I was aware of the Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA) but realized there was no program here in the county, where the rate of illiteracy was on the rise rather than decline.”

Keller then set the wheels in motion to create the LVSC, which began in her home and now, “thanks to the dedication and hard work of hundreds of volunteers,” encompasses the Read it Again Bookstore, a computer lab, library and learning center that provides a safe haven for adults seeking assistance in learning.

“Everyone who can’t read depends on others to help them in their day-to-day lives,” she said. “Spouses, children, even lawyers often fill in the blanks for these folks. But sometimes, that support system goes away and these hard working, intelligent adults are adrift. That’s where you come in.” Stopping in at the center, I picked up some pamphlets, promising to return and headed home to learn more.

I read that the LVSC is a not-for-profit organization “dedicated to raising the literacy rate in our community through free, one-to-one adult training” and that “giving freely of their time, volunteer tutors meet with their students for an average of one to two hours per week.” Wondering if I was up to such a commitment, I continued to explore what was required of the volunteers and found that the center offered a program consisting of 18 hours of free tutor training, along with curriculum materials, workbooks and a staff offering assistance and support throughout the process.

Although financed with grants from the State of New York Department of Education, in conjunction with corporate, foundation and personal contributions, the LVSC is feeling the pinch of funding cuts and continues to reach out to the community for support. To augment the lack of available dollars, the LVSC maintains the bookstore, which carries a vast array of “gently used” books of every genre, priced from seventy-five cents for a paperback and less than $2 for hardcover, and proceeds from the bookstore are responsible for 70% of the agency’s income

Last winter, I took the plunge and cleared room on my schedule. I found the time to complete the tutor training program and was matched up with a student instantly. With help from the center, I understand that “parental responsibilities, work obligations and preconceived notions regarding the learning process all add to the anxiety of the new learner” and I have been asked to give of my time for one year, which is a “basic requirement of the tutors for the security of the student and success of the match.”

The entire experience has been enriching, and I look forward to sharing my love of reading with others, long after my present student moves on. The LVSC motto: “We help adults help themselves through literacy,” is clear. Being a part of the process is something I hope to share with others along the way.

All intake work for students is done in the privacy of the LVSC offices and is strictly confidential. The next volunteer training will start on October 13 (see page 10). For information regarding becoming a student or a tutor, call 845/794-0017.