This is a quote from 52-year-old John Jones who lives in Buffalo, N.Y., and is now learning to read for the first time in his life. His daughters Ayesha and Latisha Jones need to take a break from their homework to help their dad. This man is just one of 65,000 adults in this city who cannot read above the fifth-grade level.
This story was reported on CBS News a while back and, according to a recent study, the problem is getting worse in many states. The adult literacy problem in America is well documented and this is literally crippling our nation.
The sad thing is that all of these adults were children at one time and the vast majority should have learned basic reading and language skills earlier in life. There are programs in place in every state in our nation to help adults learn to read and preschool education is gaining momentum, but the children who are most at-risk are those being reared in low-income families.
The majority of these families do not own any books and up to 70 percent of these children are in single-parent homes where they get little, if any, help before they enter school. This is one of the main reasons four of every 10 students in American schools do not graduate.
If you have read my column very often you know that back in 2005 we started a unique literacy project here in our community called a “Bookcase for Every Child.” Here is our Mission Statement: “We are committed to help the millions of young children in America without access to good books by providing a quality, personalized bookcase, along with a starter set of books AND by reading to children at local Head Start Centers and other programs with similar objectives. We also want to encourage parents to read to their children at home and to limit violence and other harmful influences across the American landscape.”
Our copyrighted project is carried out with all volunteers and uses no tax money or grants of any kind. We have all come together, as a community, in the spirit of “giving back” to focus on the need for greater literacy and to give these children a better opportunity for personal success. With the exception of present company, the real strength of this project can be found in the 14-member Conway Bookcase Project Committee. We have fantastic people who represent every area of our community. This is a community-wide project, as illiteracy affects every person and we must have everyone’s help to improve it.
On behalf of our committee, this is a special column, because I would like to announce that our new website, www.bookcaseforeverychild.com, is now online. Everything we have learned over the past four years in developing a successful bookcase project can be found here, from beginning to end. If there are children in low-income families in your community who can be helped by a bookcase project, we would like to partner with you by providing the information on our website and having some of our key people available to assist you as you develop your own successful project.
After reading and studying the website, the first step is to invite the following key people to be on your central committee.
You should have 1) a retired executive leader; 2) a Head Start director; 3) a librarian; 4) a retired legislator; 5) a newspaper publisher; 6) a retired reading teacher; 7) a master craftsman; 8) one representative from each civic club; 9) a business leader; and 10) a banker or treasurer.
We are on a mission and we hope you will join us. Please let us hear from you.
(Editor’s Note: Jim Davidson is a public speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034. To support literacy, buy his book, “Learning, Earning & Giving Back.”)