Living Columns & Blogs

Helping hands: Literacy skills result in better health and employment

Why did you decide to volunteer at Mid-State Literacy Council? When asked, one volunteer replied, “Because I know how important it is to be able to read.”

According to the census data, 11 percent of Centre County residents are illiterate. About 17,462 people have difficulty reading signs, instructions and job applications. They have difficulty opening a checking account, getting a job and reading to their children. Vulnerable, marginalized, at risk, they struggle.

The literacy council provides one-on-one tutoring and small classes for about 325 adults in Centre and Clearfield Counties. Trained volunteers share their skills by teaching reading, writing, math, English, basic computer and health literacy.

People helping people — you might be surprised by the results. About 225 trained volunteer tutors are teaching adults to read the instructions on medicine labels. Others are team-teaching classes, such as English for Doctor’s Visits, to help people describe symptoms and learn health care information.

Literacy council students learn that severe pain in the lower right side of the abdomen, fever, chills and nausea might be symptoms of appendicitis and to seek immediate medical help. Recently, one student developed these symptoms and went to the hospital. It was diagnosed as appendicitis. Thanks to newly learned literacy skills, she got the medical care she needed and made a good recovery.

Achievement is the theme of the literacy council. With new and better skills, adults are obtaining jobs. Some are entering training programs to work as phlebotomists. Others advance to full-time employment with benefits. Literacy council students with young children value learning. A young woman is now reading her first books to her toddler. She wants her daughter to grow up to be a good reader.

The 17th annual Ron and Mary Maxwell Community Spelling Bee at 6 p.m. April 6 at the Foxdale Village Auditorium will celebrate our community’s support for literacy. Martha Kolln, word master, has a lightening round of words planned for the courageous. Teams of spellers will compete in good-hearted fun as they represent their community sponsors.

Since 1971, the commitment to community demonstrated by Ruth Kistler, founding member, is a beacon lighting our way. Now in her 90s, she recalls the first student she taught to read. On a mountain in Centre County, Ruth tutored in her car. Her student learned to read, gaining freedom and opportunity. This year the Ruth C. Kistler Service Award will be presented to Katie O’Toole on May 3 at Celebration Hall, featuring a literature-themed menu of edible delights and live music.

For more information on events, tutoring and learning at Mid-State Literacy Council, call Amy Wilson at 238-1809, email mslc @mid-stateliteracycouncil .org or visit www.mid-state

Amy T. Wilson is the executive director of Mid-State Literacy Council. She can be reached at awilson@mid-stateliteracy