Resolution to share gift of literacy worthwhile

Posted Jan. 04, 2010, at 6:04 p.m.

As a teacher, I had always wondered what would happen to students who fell through the cracks in reading and writing. Then I met Sam.

It was several Januarys ago when, as a New Year’s resolution to contribute to the community in a meaningful way, I joined Literacy Volunteers of Bangor where I met Sam and found one of those students. Sam had always struggled in American schools, though he had moved here from a Spanish-speaking country as a kindergartner. His parents grappled with English on top of substance abuse issues, and hesitated to get involved in Sam’s school challenges. By the time he was in middle school, Sam had a one-on-one aide whose main responsibility was preventing him from causing trouble in class. Shockingly, Sam left school in 10th grade without ever learning to read.

Years later, our classroom was the small, cramped apartment in Bangor that Sam shared with his wife and three young children. The kitchen table in their tiny kitchen became his desk; there I realized that Sam had a significant learning disability that had prevented him from progressing in school all those years. He admitted that his negative behavior caused teachers to throw up their hands in frustration as he chose to cause trouble rather than admit his disability. Despite his challenges, Sam had progressed in his profession successfully until the economy took away his job. Suddenly, Sam and his wife had to take public assistance and admit that they needed to further their education to survive.

Our one-on-one sessions were just an hour long to start, but as his family became comfortable with my presence, opportunities for literacy grew. Soon I was also tutoring his wife and reading to his children, and my weekly visit was extended to two hours and beyond. I was startled to find out that this family did not have a library card and only sporadically used the Internet. Sam had never filled out a job application without assistance and had never written his own address at the doctor’s office or when applying for his driver’s license. Yet Sam is a bright, energetic man who wants to participate fully in life. Sam and his family came to Literacy Volunteers of Bangor to end the cycle of low literacy.

Literacy Volunteers of Bangor serves many families like Sam’s. In our area it is estimated that 25 percent of our population is considered to have low literacy. These people live in our neighborhoods and work at the businesses we rely upon throughout Greater Bangor. Our mission at LV-Bangor is to empower these adults with improved reading and English language skills that enhance their life skills. For some, that means attaining a GED; for others, it’s learning to converse in English so that they can talk with their neighbors; for many, it’s simply the ability to read their children bedtime stories or help them with homework.

Literacy is the foundation of democracy, and education cannot be underestimated as a way to improve one’s life.

My resolution to contribute has become my passion; tutoring students has led to training volunteers, participating in support and resource committees, and serving on the LV-Bangor board. Students like Sam have given me a better understanding of how fortunate I am. Education is the way that my husband and I have improved our economic status and enriched our lives.

Literacy Volunteers of Bangor offers no-cost, one-on-one educational support to hundreds of adults, like Sam. It’s all possible through private grant and individual support and the generosity of volunteers’ time. Volunteering with LV-Bangor has given me the sense of purpose and fulfillment I felt at the end of each school day when I worked as a classroom teacher. My fellow volunteers have come from all walks of life to change the direction of their lives and those of the students they tutor. At this, the traditional time for resolutions and life changes, I invite you to enrich your life through community service with an organization such as Literacy Volunteers of Bangor.

People such as Sam are on a waiting list now, hoping someone will volunteer.

Jen Montgomery-Rice lives in Hampden. To volunteer or learn more about Literacy Volunteers of Bangor, call 947-8451 or visit the Web site at www.lvbangor.org.

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