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Another Voice: With full funding of Adult Literacy Education program, lives will be improved

By Tara Vogel

Over the next few weeks, Literacy New York Buffalo-Niagara is asking the New York State Legislature to increase funding for the state’s Adult Literacy Education program. Along with advocates for adult literacy throughout the state, we stand strong in our plea for additional funding.

Here’s why adult literacy is so important: The lack of literacy skills is the thread that weaves through so many of today’s societal issues, including poverty, incarceration and high dropout rates in schools. To solve these socioeconomic problems, we must start with building more literate communities and a more literate adult population.

Improving literacy rates is the very thing that will improve so much else. When people can read, they can go to school, they can work and they can contribute fully to society. This, in turn, promotes strong communities – the kind where everyone prospers.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon once said, “Literacy is the key to delivering the potential of every human being; the key to opening up a future of freedom and hope.”

Literacy New York delivers that message in New York as we address the problem through a network of 35 affiliates whose staff members and volunteers serve more than 6,000 adults. Trained volunteers work one-to-one and in small groups with adult learners whose goal may be a high school equivalency diploma, the ability to read with their child or fulfilling their dream of becoming an American citizen.

Literacy funding is truly an investment in the future of New York. An adult who can read can strive for more than a minimum-wage job. An adult who can read will read to his or her children. An adult who can read can break the grip of dependence on government assistance. Fostering literacy skills in adults allows them to be better parents, better employees and more active and engaged citizens.

The timing is critical for Buffalo. As we watch the magnificent renaissance around us, we have to ensure that all of our residents are ready to take advantage of these new opportunities. Literacy is the common denominator.

Literacy New York Buffalo-Niagara is contributing to our region’s rebirth. We serve more than 200 adult learners each year with the help of 194 volunteers. However, we have many more students waiting – right now, 155 – whom we could serve if we had the funding.

Throughout New York, from Long Island to Buffalo and the North Country to the Southern Tier, we have a saying: “Literacy Leads.” It leads to employment, to independence and to opportunity. The Adult Literacy Education program helps our adult learners lead more meaningful, independent lives. We ask the State Legislature to fully fund adult literacy this year – and every year.

Tara Vogel is executive director of Literacy New York Buffalo-Niagara.