Living Columns & Blogs

Volunteers share skills through Mid-State Literacy Council

Illiteracy is an invisible condition that, according to census data, affects 11 percent of Centre County residents. Walking down College Avenue, as Penn State students pass with backpacks full of books, you would say that’s impossible. Yet an estimated 17,462 people have difficulty navigating everyday tasks, reading directions, filling out forms, opening a checking account, getting a job and reading to their children, making them wary of being discovered, vulnerable and often marginalized as they struggle.

Mid-State Literacy Council opened its doors in 1971 to assist adults providing tutoring to teach reading. Ruth Kistler, founding member who is now in her 90s, recalls, “I taught our first student to read in my car on a mountain top in Centre County.”

Today one-on-one tutoring and small classes are offered by 225 trained tutors to more than 300 adults in Centre and Clearfield counties. Trained volunteers share their skills by teaching reading, writing, math, English, basic computer, health and financial literacy.

The literacy council’s focus is to achieve results that allow adults to read instructions on medicine labels, speak to their doctors about symptoms, obtain a job or seek a promotion and read to their children. One student successfully described her symptoms: severe pain in the lower right side, fever, chills and nausea and was diagnosed with appendicitis. She received immediate medical care and made a good recovery.

Preventing illiteracy is also important to the council. Mid-State Literacy Council’s annual children’s book drive provides books to local elementary schools so children can continue to read throughout the summer. We refer to these as “forever libraries” — it reminds us of the importance of reading as a lifelong skill, not just for everyday living but for its pure enjoyment.

When parents read to their children, it establishes a precedence to read for their entire life. My youngest daughter and I would read the now well-known children’s alphabet book “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” nightly and we continued to read it together, even when she was 18. It was a great father/daughter experience. She now is 30, and we still look back and laugh at the book’s refrain “Chicka chicka boom boom! Will there be enough room?” It is a book every parent should read with their children.

Armed with new and increased skills, adults are obtaining jobs, passing the GED, advancing to full-time employment with benefits, reading to their toddlers, and parents are communicating with their children’s schools.

Mid-State Literacy Council supports adults looking to a make a difference in their lives and their community.

For more information on events, tutoring and learning at Mid-State Literacy Council, call 238-1809 or email   

Murrie Zlotziver is Mid-State’s literacy coordinator. He can be reached at Mid-State Literacy Council is a Centre County United Way Partner Agency.