By Judy O’Gorman Alvarez
Literacy Volunteers of Monmouth County (LVMC) has been teaching adults in the Two River area to improve their literacy skills for 30 years.
What started in 1983 as a handful of volunteer tutors teaching basic literacy students, has grown into an organization to include 133 active tutors who serve about 612 basic literacy and English as a Second Language (ESL) students.
“We’ve grown in leaps and bounds,” says Rebecca Lucas, LVMC director.
Trained volunteers work one-on-one or in groups to help adults improve their writing, reading and speaking skills.
It was three decades ago that a small group of Monmouth County residents, trying to address the needs of low-income adults, began offering free tutoring to improve reading and writing skills. Now LVMC is a nonprofit charitable organization accredited by ProLiteracy, the largest adult literacy organization in the United States.
Divided into two groups of learners, LVMC helps the students meet their own individual literacy goals. The Adult Basic Education program is for people who lack an acceptable grade level of basic reading, writing and math skills. They may suffer from learning issues or were somehow overlooked in the education system. Often they have high school diplomas and longstanding careers, yet they never mastered foundational literary skills.
The second group, English as a Second Language (ESL) students, are foreign-born New Jersey residents learning to fit in with their new environment. LVMC serves people from more than 39 countries helping them improve their language and literary skills.
Students have various goals: Some may want to apply for U.S. citizenship or a drivers’ license or pursue a General Equivalence Diploma (GED); a parent may want to help a child with homework and communicate with the child’s teacher; another student may want to enjoy a classic novel or read to a grandchild.
Almost every student wants to have the skills to secure a steady job or do their job better. But, such simple goals may seem unattainable to a person who cannot read.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, more than 1 million adults in New Jersey do not have a high school diploma or a GED. In addition, low literacy adds an estimated $230 billion to the country’s annual health-care costs, according to Proliteracy.org.
“Educated employees can take on more responsibilities, provide increased productivity and be more effective problem solvers,” Lucas says.
LVMC tutors, who vary in ages from 18 to senior citizens, are area residents from all walks of life who share the desire to help empower others through literacy. Becoming a volunteer requires no teaching experience or knowledge of a foreign language.
After completing a free 18-hour volunteer tutor training session, tutors are matched – often based on scheduling and location – with a student for one-on-one sessions or to help with an ESL conversational group. Tutors and students meet at mutually convenient locations such as libraries or churches that lend their spaces, usually once a week.
The bond that develops between tutor and student is often very strong and many pairings grow into longtime friendships with shared family and cultural activities.
In addition, LVMC offers workshops and classes for both students and tutors, including GED preparatory and computer skills, and family, financial and health literacy programs.
All tutoring is free and confidential.
LVMC could not do what it does without volunteers and supporters. “As a volunteer-based organization, we’re funded by grants, donations and our annual fundraising dinner,” Lucas says.
During its annual fundraiser in May, the group celebrated 30 years of bringing literacy to New Jersey residents and honored a few fervent supporters.
LVMC board members Ted Nappi was honored with the Literacy Champion Award and Carl DeJura received the Literacy Education Excellence Award. Longtime supporter and volunteer Sarah Wilson Stewart received the Literacy Advocate Award.
“In today’s society, low economic adults cannot get a job unless they can read at a high school level,” Lucas says. “We try to help the students to get their reading, writing and conversational skills up to par.”
Once up to par, students can enroll in GED programs, trade schools and Brookdale Community College or take advantage of resources such as the state Department of Labor and Workforce’s One-Stop Career Services Center.
“In order to do that, we focus on adults with the lowest level of literacy to help them to get them off welfare so they can go out and get jobs and become contributing members to their community.”
For information on supporting LVMC or becoming a tutor, call 732-571-0209 or visit www.lvmonmouth.org.