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Literacy Volunteers Teach Valley Residents to Read

By Amanda Sawyers, communications intern, United Way of Montgomery, Radford & Floyd

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 12 - November 9, 1995

Growing up in Radford during the depression, Arnold Hinkley was forced to drop out of school after the third grade to help his parents support his family. Now, more than 50 years later, Hinkley is learning to read, thanks to the Literacy Volunteers of the New River Valley, a United Way partner agency and Combined Virginia Campaign participant.

"The main reason I wanted to learn to read was so I could read my Bible," Hinkley said. "I had heard of a program that taught adults how to read, so I gave it a try." Hinkley sought the help of the Literacy Volunteers, and seven years later he was awarded the honor of Student of the Year for Literacy Volunteers of the New River Valley

Hinkley is just one of the hundreds of adults learning to read through the Literacy Volunteers of the New River Valley. The program has 233 actively matched clients and another 25 prospective clients waiting for tutors. The program provides confidential one-on-one tutoring, tutoring for English as a second language, and tutoring to slow readers enrolled in adult basic-education classes.

"Whether it is a job manual or a Bible, the client decides what he/she wants to learn to read and write," said Barbara Guthrie, program director. "Through this program, clients develop an increased self-esteem, which reflects on many other aspects of their lives."

Currently, the program consists of 200 volunteers. After completing an 18-hour training session, volunteer tutors are matched with a student, and commit to meet a minimum of 50 hours a year. According to Guthrie, Virginia Tech is very involved with the Literacy Volunteers program. Louis Gwin, associate professor of communications, is on the Literacy Volunteers of the NRV's board of directors. Other literacy volunteers include faculty and staff members at Virginia Tech, as well as some Virginia Tech students.

"A lot of people are working together to make the program a success," Guthrie said.

One volunteer who helps to make Literacy Volunteers a success is tutor Susan Seltzer. "Volunteer tutoring can be frustrating, but also extremely rewarding," Seltzer said. "It is sad to see someone want to read, but not be able to do it. It has been almost two years since I began tutoring my student. Seeing him progress makes it all worthwhile."

Located in Christiansburg, the Literacy Volunteers of the New River Valley is funded by contributions through the Combined Virginia Campaign, local United Ways, local government, small grants, and private contributions. For more information about Literacy Volunteers, United Way and its partner agencies, or the Combined Virginia Campaign call the United Way of Montgomery, Radford & Floyd at 381-2066.