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Literacy council nurtures whole family

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Elizabeth Floyd

WILMINGTON, N.C. – In peak traffic, the location of the Cape Fear Literacy Council right off Highway 76 is an advertiser’s dream.

But for a group whose clients often do not exceed a first-grade reading level, advertising is rarely as simple as the lucky positioning of front-porch lettering.

“We try everything we can think of,” says executive director Linda Patton, referring to the council’s efforts  to lure the area’s estimated 50,000 adults with low reading skills into the nearly 30-year-old nonprofit’s literacy tutoring programs. “We rely a lot on word of mouth.”

Last year, the council’s 484 volunteers spent a combined 15,982 hours, the equivalent of almost eight work years for one person, tutoring 481 students, each of whom needs six months to four years to acquire basic literacy skills.

Originally a project of the Wilmington Baptist Association, the Literacy Council has outgrown its original facilities, and now is home to resource and training rooms, a computer learning lab and multiple study rooms, all managed by three full-time and five part-time staff members.

The council has also adjusted its programs to keep up with the times.

The group chooses its special-topic classes in workplace literacy based on the student requests.

“We are fluid and flexible with our programming,” says Patton. “We don’t turn away anyone who comes to our door.”

It just so happens that in recent years, immigrants from as many as 25 different countries have been showing up at the council’s door, prompting  mushrooming offerings of English classes at all levels.

Training services for tutors extend beyond the council’s own volunteers to those of local churches and other nonprofits eager to help break the language barrier.

Lately, the council has re-focused its vision on the family.

“When we work with an adult, it has a direct impact on the children in that family,” says Patton.

And the council hopes to expand that impact with “Stepping Stones,” a new family-literacy program slated to start in late summer.

Through a partnership with the New Hanover County Public Library, the council aims to cut the cycle of illiteracy at its roots, not only by teaching its adult students, but by teaching them to teach their kids as well.

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