When Eleanor Heinrich founded Literacy Volunteers of Buffalo and Erie County in 1965 with 10 other "Church Women United of Buffalo," it was a busy year. Time magazine named President Lyndon Johnson its "Man of the Year." Assassins killed Malcolm X at a Harlem rally. The "Sound of Music" premiered. Lucky Debonair won the Kentucky Derby. Ralph Nader broadsided the auto industry with his book, "Unsafe at Any Speed." Winston Churchill, T.S. Eliot, Nat King Cole and Adlai Stevenson died. Audience members booed Bob Dylan off a Newport Folk Festival stage for using an electric guitar.
We remember how difficult it was for Literacy Volunteers' original 11 tutors to find students. In 1965, adults troubled by illiteracy were reticent to speak of their problem; today, many people still find ways to hide their illiteracy.
Our first student was an African-American woman on public assistance and the single mother of six children. She had less than two years of schooling in South Carolina, but with Literacy Volunteers' help, she was able to read "The Little Gingerbread Boy" to her children by Christmas 1965.
Forty years later:
Literacy volunteers needs tutors. This year alone, we have more than 270 adult learners on a waiting list to be matched with a literacy volunteer. Demand for our services is up 25 percent. Volunteers can tutor in basic reading or English as a second language.
Government budget cuts threaten Literacy Volunteers. The Bush administration's 2006 budget cuts adult education by $369 million, an overall reduction of 66 percent. The federal budget cuts would affect New York State's adult education programs by cutting funds by 75 percent in 2006. Our state and regional governments (including school districts) are going to have more responsibility and obligations to fund adult education initiatives and programs in 2006.
Literacy Volunteers is a good public investment. Every $1 in public funding to Literacy Volunteers leverages $13.55 in volunteer and other "free" resources that directly improve the quality of living in Buffalo and Erie County.
Literacy Volunteers has 10 neighborhood drop-in centers. It's easy for people to access free literacy tutoring with our neighborhood centers. But more are needed; you can open a literacy drop-in center at your church or group.
Literacy Volunteers offers family and youth literacy services. We need tutors to help children in grades K-8 complete their homework, improve the test scores in English language arts and gain a general appreciation for reading and writing. We need volunteers to work with parents and caregivers, too. Breaking the cycle of intergenerational illiteracy begins at the earliest stage of a person's life and includes the whole family.
Call Literacy Volunteers at 876-8991 or visit us at www.literacybuffalo.org to learn more about how you can help fight illiteracy and celebrate our 40 years of volunteer service in Buffalo and Erie County.
Tracy Diina is executive director of Literacy Volunteers of Buffalo & Erie County.