Northwest Alabama Reading Aides by Ginger Eich
In 1975 the members of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church became aware of a very real problem in our communities: almost a third of the people in Northwest Alabama were not able to read well enough to function in our society. They could not read what was written on their medicine bottles, they could not read street signs, they could not read the newspaper, they could not fill out an application, nor could they read to their children. They were illiterate –or were functional illiterates: having a few reading skill but not able to truly read.
The National Lutheran Church in America had begun a country-wide effort to help these adults who couldn’t read. At the request of the local church the LCA sent a reading specialist to the Shoals to train volunteers to tutor the people who wanted to learn to read better. Martha Lane helped the volunteers to understand the problem more fully, trained them to tutor students, and laid the groundwork for these volunteers to hold future workshops to train other volunteers to tutor those who wanted to learn to read. Ms. Lane helped them to form an organization to recruit tutors and students for months and years to come.
Northwest Alabama Reading Aides, or NARA, began holding 10 –12 hour workshops 3 to 4 times a year to train those willing to work with the non-readers. NARA used the materials developed by Frank C. Laubach, who was renowned worldwide for his work teaching people to read their own language. These materials were obtained from Laubach Literacy Action (now known as Proliteracy).
Volunteer tutors and the adults who wanted to improve their reading skills were recruited by word of mouth, by public service announcements over local radio stations and the local TV station, and by stories in the Times-Daily Newspaper. Local churches were asked to put information in their Sunday bulletins about the workshops being offered and the need for volunteers.
Our first workshops were held in Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and First Presbyterian Church of Florence. The first trainers worked out of their homes, as we did not have an office. Later Trinity Episcopal Church provided us with an office and space to hold workshops, so we worked out of Trinity for many years. First Methodist Church’s office building is where we currently reside.
The first tutors and students were greatly encouraged by the results they experienced. The materials were designed to offer volunteer tutors and students immediate success. Tutors with no previous teaching experience were able to use the Laubach workbooks easily. Students were surprised at how well they were learning to read. Most non-readers had come to think of themselves as dumb or stupid, but soon after starting lessons they realized that they indeed were not stupid! Tutors found their efforts to be very gratifying as they saw their students growing in abilities and self-confidence.
The Laubach method was developed specifically to help adults with limited or no reading skills to achieve success in reading and writing. This 4-level series works with learners who have not succeeded with other reading programs. It even works with people whose intelligence level is below normal. This reading program has repeatedly been shown to be a highly effective method for teaching adults (age 16 or older) to read and write. Lessons are held in the NARA office, in libraries, in churches, or where ever is private with good lighting, tables, and chairs. NARA asks that tutor not use their own or their student’s homes.
The mission of Laubach has been to provide free one-to-one instruction in reading, writing, and English language skills to adults who could not read at all or who could not read well enough to function successfully in our society. Tutoring is free. Members of NARA work to empower their students to acquire better jobs, read and fill out application forms, read to their children, and function in a world where knowledge of the written word is needed.
For many years NARA has provided instruction in English as a Second Language (ESL). For those who do not speak English as their first language, we now offer classes from basic all the way to conversational to teach them how to speak, read, and write English.
We recently partnered with Adult Education at Northwest-Shoals Community College for our first classroom ESL instruction. It meets twice a week for 3 hours each night. Their class in English Language Acquisition (ELA), formerly referred to as ESL, offers instruction that assists individuals of limited English proficiency to achieve competence in the English language. Instruction is geared to adults who want to become more fluent in English, pass the U.S. citizenship test or GED test, work or job-seeking skills, or continue their education. Tara Branscome is the Director, and she can be reached at 256-331-5438.
It has been demonstrated that stroke victims whose reading abilities were affected by the stroke are usually helped by working with a reading tutor. These people are often able to regain some of their ability to read. NARA offers such tutoring, and also offers support groups for these people and their families. For more information call 256-766-5709, and ask to speak to Jim Green, the Director of the Northwest Alabama Reading Aides.
Recently we have been able to offer training for tutor volunteer over the Internet, rather than requiring such people attend a workshop. A person who wants to tutor an illiterate adult can be trained in the NARA office at whatever times are convenient to the person.
What you can do:
- Become a volunteer tutor – make a difference in another person’s life by simply donating your time and learn to use the Laubach tutoring materials and get matched with a student.
- Let others know about our free services – word of mouth is the best way to reach those who need our help.
- Become a sponsor – help us meet our expenses by donating money. Any amount will be greatly appreciated.
NARA is a United Way Organization. We are a member in The Shoals Chamber of Commerce. We also partner with Adult Education at NWSCC, the North Alabama Medical Center/stroke awareness, as well as all the local libraries.