Literacy Matters

The Literacy Volunteers of South Sarasota County Celebrate 40 Years of Improving Everyone's Quality of Life

Article by Emily Leinfuss

Photography by The Literacy Volunteers of South Sarasota County

Originally published in Venice City Lifestyle

Over the 40 years that the Literacy Volunteers of South Sarasota County (LVSSC) has provided our area with English literacy tutoring and education, the nonprofit has helped thousands of men and women gain the skills they need to reach their full potential as individuals, parents, workers, and citizens.

Moreover, its mission, “to change the lives of adults…by providing tutoring, educational technology, and classes that effectively increase their English reading, writing, and speaking skills at no cost to the adult learners,” doesn’t just help those people. Literacy fosters equality and prosperity within our community and for our nation, according to the organization's president Paddy Padmanabhan. 

“About 44 million adults in the U.S. cannot read or write above the third-grade level. If their literacy was raised to a sixth-grade reading level, it would add $2.2 trillion in annual income to the U.S. economy,” says Paddy. 

The factors contributing to that number include the cost of healthcare ($106-$238 billion), unemployment (loss of earning ability and taxable income) and more, according to statistics compiled by ProLiteracy America, of which LVSSC is an organizational member.

Locally, LVSSC has tutored 247 area adults from 42 different countries over the past year. The larger percentages of students hail from Ukraine, Russia, Venezuela, Columbia, and Cuba. But not everyone who gains literacy through the organization is from another country, says treasurer Sandy McIntyre. 

Sandy explains that a U.S.-born student, who dropped out of school in the 11th grade, always wanted to learn to read, but couldn’t - due to undiagnosed dyslexia.  With specialized instruction his reading has greatly improved. Now he’s able to help his young son who is having difficulty reading at school.

That example illustrates how the LVSSC endeavors to individualize each learning situation to the needs of the participants. “There is no cookie-cutter education here,” says Paddy. 

LVSSC has two offices for initial intake. One is in the North Port Public Library and the other is in the William H. Jervey, Jr. Venice Public Library. However, all South Sarasota County libraries provide rooms for LVSSC tutoring. 

As the program coordinator for Venice, one of Peter Norrman’s tasks is to “assess the skills and goals of people seeking help to make the right match between student and tutor,” he says.

Working for a specific goal is a great motivator.  For example, a nursing student who wanted to better understand English so she could pass her licensing exam, was paired with a retired nurse. Another successful match was when an oncology nurse from China was paired with a radiology tech, who happened to be a neighbor of Sandy’s.

In this case, student and tutor "knew all the same professional terminology. Plus, they really meshed and (my neighbor) helped her through other tests, and her first jobs," says Sandy. Along the way they each made a friend.". 

LVSSC doesn’t only offer one-on-one tutoring and, more recently, tutoring through Zoom. It also provides citizenship classes for immigrants to study U.S. history and government in preparation for becoming U.S. citizens. Group classes include English instruction for students at any level, and conversational English for intermediate and advanced students. Computer-based instruction is also available, where adult students can improve their English skills at their own pace.

Students aside, one of the biggest challenges the organization faces is not having enough tutors, says LVSSC secretary Nancy Pike. “We have 260 active students and 143 active tutors, with nearly 70 students on a waiting list,” she said. “When the ‘snowbirds’ return we will have around 180 tutors,” she added.

But that’s not nearly enough. “Since the war broke out in Ukraine, and North Port has a very large Ukrainian population, we are helping many new refugees. We need many more volunteers to work with these students who are trying to learn English so they can exist in our community,” says Nancy. 

That’s why LVSSC provides free training and many other resources to its tutors. In addition to the initial classes required to prepare volunteers to tutor English as a Second Language (ESL) and Basic Reading (BR or Basic Adult Literacy), it offers Start Now! –  a mentoring program that provides support to new tutors as they begin working with an adult learner. Plus, both Venice and North Port have an extensive library of materials for tutors to use, including materials helpful in teaching speakers of English to read, and for teaching those with learning disabilities.  

There are many reasons to become a tutor and help change lives through literacy. Some of them were stated by LVSSC staff members when asked what motivates them to keep on mission. “Literacy improves understanding between people” is one reason. “Literacy helps the whole family,” is another. And, for LVSSC president, Paddy Padmanabhan, the motivation is clear: "If I can make even a small difference in the life of others, it is a life well lived".

North Port: 941-861-1320

Venice: 941-861-1352

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