Reprinted with permission by High Ground News
by Emily Adams Keplinger
For the staff at local nonprofit Literacy Mid-South, reading is not a pastime. The organization sees literacy as more than just a key to employment, but a human right that allows people to navigate the world and realize dreams. Literacy Mid-South improves the quality of life in our community through education by providing literacy programs for adults and children. Previously named the Memphis Literacy Council and Mid-South Reads, Literacy Mid-South has been working to increase the literacy of Mid-Southerners for over 40 years. Its two primary focuses are literacy for adults and improving third-grade reading scores for children.
“Literacy Mid-South (LMS) is a nonprofit organization, a group of passionate staff, volunteers, board and community organizations dedicated to making the Mid-South a community actively engaged in continuous learning,” said Kevin Dean, Executive Director. “We were formed to help people of all ages and backgrounds achieve the critical literacy skills they need in order to navigate the world."
Dean estimates that 20 to 30 percent of adults in the Memphis metro area are functionally illiterate.
“That means more than just unemployment — their minds are unused and their dreams are unrealized,” said Dean. “Our organization serves all of the Mid-South through group literacy classes, individual tutoring, and by providing reading resources to other area non-profits. Our goal is 100 literacy literacy in the Mid-South.”
In continuing to face literacy challenges, LMS has recently launched a pilot Workplace Literacy Program. It involves sending a certified English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher into a workplace to perform a needs assessment. Based on the findings, a program is developed to teach ESL employees words, phrases and conversation skills in order to improve their English so they can do their jobs more effectively. In addition to general conversational skills, the program is making an impact with regard to workplace safety and liability issues.
Currently, two local companies are serving as pilots sites for the Workplace Literacy Program, offering twice-a-week training for up to a year for employees. When the curriculum is fine-tuned, in about six months, the program will be rolled out city-wide as a paid service offered by LMS that will be available to all area employers. Proceeds will support the Workplace Program, as well as other LMS services.
“This program could literally impact thousands of employees, depending on how quickly it is implemented in local businesses and organizations,” said Dean.
Another of LMS’ unique approaches to reaching its audience involves the location of its reading skills tutoring.
“About three years ago we decentralized our adult programs, taking it from a single building to 31 different local branch libraries across Memphis, Germantown and northwest Mississippi,” explained Dean. “That enabled students to meet closer to where they lived.”
Dean continued, “On January 9, we announced that we are expanding access by the increasing the number of tutoring sites beyond the libraries. Our tutors will now be able to meet with adult students at locations like coffee shops, restaurants, etc. LMS still provides the books and literacy materials. However, as the hours of operation have been cut at area libraries, we are trying to accommodate the needs of students who need later hours for tutoring sessions.”
In addition to the more than 500 adult students participating in reading skills tutoring, there is a waiting list of at least 50 more adults seeking literacy tutoring. To meet this demand, there is a need for more volunteers to serve as tutors. Visit Volunteer Memphis to see a list of all available opportunities to volunteer with LMS.