My ‘Aha’ Moment

Nan Benedict reads to a family interested in literacy at #ReadAloud event last summer.

I became a volunteer at The Literacy Center because I enjoy reading so much and I wanted to share that with others. I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t read, having learned to read very early, most probably before I started school. Reading helped me make sense of the world and also helped keep me entertained. In the age before the internet, reading helped me expand my horizons and learn about the world beyond my own personal experiences.

When I first volunteered at The Literacy Center, I had thought about helping people improve their reading skills. I hadn’t really thought about what it would be like for some who couldn’t read at all. My “Aha Moment” came when I realized just how difficult life can be for someone who cannot decode the words on a prescription bottle, or a recipe, or a bus schedule, or directions of any kind. Those who cannot read have no real way to verify anything that anyone tells them. They can only rely on the words of others and personal experience.

People with literacy issues do find ways to cope, but life can be incredibly difficult for them. Because they can’t read, they have to develop a variety of coping mechanisms to deal with everyday situations. When faced with something they must read, they might ask someone to read it for them, claiming they have left their glasses at home. They might ask someone to write something for them, claiming that their handwriting is very poor. They might ask to complete forms at home, so that they can have someone else do it for them.

Many who struggle with literacy keep it so well hidden that their closest family members are unaware of their problems. The shame they feel is often so great that they can’t even imagine asking for help, but that is the first step in overcoming the obstacles they face. Learning to read as an adult is challenging, but can improve one’s life dramatically. By helping people learn to read, we not only help the individual, but also society as a whole.

Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, once said, “Literacy unlocks the door to learning throughout life, is essential to development and health, and opens the way for democratic participation and active citizenship.”

I feel very fortunate that I can support those who provide instruction for those people who take the brave step of asking for help.
Nan Benedict
Board of Directors Chair

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