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Harrison volunteers call attention to illiteracy problem

by Darlene J. Taylor

STAFF WRITER

Local resident Jeff Robertson hopes to advance to a supervisory position and eventually managerial status at the company where he works. But he can't do that until he improves his reading, writing and math comprehension skills.

So when he saw the story about Literacy Volunteers of Harrison County last year in the local newspaper, he decided to do something about it.

"I have been coming here since May," said Robertson during a break in his class at the local Literacy Volunteers of America office, 153 W. Main St., Room 214. "LVA has helped me to improve my reading, spelling and math skills. When I started the class I was a laborer for Patton Building Services. I have been promoted to team leader and also to assistant supervisor since then. I got 30 hours overtime last week."

Judy Bowling, coordinator of the Harrison County LVA, said determination and motivation like that is what makes the program successful.

"Students are more likely to be successful if they work at it every day. The tutor offers guidance and encouragement once a week, but it is totally the student's choice how much effort they want to put into it. Once they make the commitment, it can change them. It gives them confidence and more self-esteem," she said.

The Harrison County LVA motto says, "By teaching someone to read, you help them open doors to a whole new world ..." It was penned by Debbie Eastep, an HCLVA tutor, board member and activist.

Gene Larosa, a tutor for nearly one year, said it has been very rewarding for him.

"But Jeff deserves all the credit. He took the initiative to make the call even with the family, work and travel responsibilities he has. Jeff has improved two grade levels in the 11 months we have been working together," said Larosa, of Bridgeport.

Literacy Volunteers of Harrison County will celebrate Volunteer for Literacy Week today through April 16, with activities planned to bring awareness to the problem of illiteracy.

"We want to provide information about our free services, recruit volunteer tutors and volunteer helpers and raise funds to buy training materials and awards to recognize students and volunteers," said Bowling.

Tutors will be available on Tuesday at Clarksburg-Harrison Public Library and Thursday at Bridgeport Public Library to discuss the experience. There will also be an informational display.

A Literacy Volunteer Workshop on reading comprehension will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at United Technical Center, Route 19 North, with Dr. Annita Ward as instructor.

Nearly 9,700 people in Harrison County are functionally illiterate. That means one out of five adults in the county needs help to complete an employment application, follow written instructions or read the local newspaper.

There are an additional 12,800 adults locally who have basic literacy skills but require higher levels of literacy to function effectively in society, find employment or be trained for new jobs as the workplace changes.

Volunteer tutors must complete a free, 18-hour LVA tutor training workshop and are asked to commit to 50 hours of service time. Volunteers teach reading, speaking, writing and math comprehension skills, including English as a second language.

"Once the volunteer tutors are trained, it is a very flexible schedule with the tutor and student working together. Usually tutors spend about four hours per week for lesson planning and student tutoring sessions," said Bowling.

There will be tutor training sessions in May for interested volunteer tutors at United Technical Center.

LVA gears every tutoring session to the specific goals and needs of the student, according to the coordinator.

Robertson believes volunteers are also needed in the school to help students who have learning disabilities or trouble with reading.

"I needed more help when I was in school. They should start while they are still in school before they drop out. A diploma is the most important thing you can have when trying to get a job," he said.

More than 2,500 volunteer hours were dedicated to improving local residents' reading and basic math skills in 1999. LVA currently has students on a waiting list due to a lack of volunteers.

There are Literacy Volunteers of America affiliates in 20 counties throughout the state. For more information about tutoring or registering for classes, call the local office at 624-0347 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday through Friday or call 1-800-0642-2670.

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