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Facing change

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By Todd Cohen

LAURINBURG, N.C. — With demand shifting to younger people, and support from the county and United Way declining in the face of the ailing economy, the Scotland County Literacy Council in Laurinburg is working harder to secure private contributions through grants and special events.

“This is probably the worst year we’ve had since 1991,” says Pat Bush, executive director.

Formed in 1976, the council serves 115 people a year, mainly out-of-school teens and young adults, providing one-on-one tutoring or, for those who can read at an eighth-grade or ninth-grade level, working with groups of three or four.

While the council initially served older people, many of whom had quit school to work on farms in the rural county, it has focused increasingly over the last five to 10 years on teens 16 and older and adults in their early 20s who did not finish school, Bush says.

“Our student is younger, and reading at a little bit higher level,” says Bush, who has been executive director since 1991. “When I first took the job, it was older persons who needed to learn how to read.”

Tutoring is provided by about 25 volunteers, who are trained in 10-hour classes by a staff of two and a part-time Americorps member, Bush says.

But plant closings, such as Abbott Labs three years ago and Charles Craft in the next few months, she says, have hurt fundraising by United Way of Scotland County, which has reduced its funding to the council by $5,000 over the past two years.

And for its fiscal year that began January 1, she says, the county eliminated its funding of $13,000.

“And that’s a big chunk of money” for an organization with an annual budget of less than $90,000, she says.

United Way and the state Department of Community Colleges each has accounted for roughly one-third of the council’s budget, with grants, individual contributions and special events providing the remainder.

“We have to raise other money,” she says. “I’m writing grants.”

The council also has received support from the Campbell Soup Foundation in Camden, N.J., which makes donations to nonprofits at which Campbell Soup employees volunteer. Two employees of the company’s plant in Maxton volunteer at the council.

Based in a house built in 1896 that was the home of the mother of the late Gov. Terry Sanford and donated to it in 1996, the council raised $250,000 over four years to renovate the building, and moved into it in 2000.

After sponsoring a “mystery dinner theater” in October that raised $1,000, the council has scheduled a second one for March 12 at McDuff’s Restaurant.

And on February 17, the council will hold its 9th annual “taste of the town” fundraising event that last year raised $1,500 and this year will feature a wine-tasting in addition to specialty foods provided by local restaurants and vendors for tasting.

The council, which receives federal funds through the state Community College System, in 2003 was accredited by ProLiteracy America in Syracuse, N.Y.

“It gives you credibility when applying for grants,” Bush says, “because it indicates you have met national standards.”

For information, call 910-276-7007.

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