“You are giving your student a gift for life—the key to success and personal growth,” Rebecca Salinas, adult literacy tutor for San Benito County Free Library.
Many of us take our reading skills for granted. We think nothing of reading a menu at a restaurant or reading a bus schedule posted at the bus stop but what if you couldn’t read? How would you use the most basic services such as ordering at a restaurant or using mass transit? According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy completed in 2003, 14 percent of adult Americans demonstrated a below basic literacy level in 2003. California has approximately 3.4 million adults with below basic literacy skills. In San Benito County 19 percent of adults have below basic literacy levels. The effect on our communities is profound.
Public libraries are committed to literacy and have stepped into bridge the educational gap. For more than 30 years, the San Benito County Free Library’s Adult Literacy Program has been helping community members achieve their literacy goals.
In January 2007, the library received a grant from the California Library Literacy Services (CLLS), a program of the California State Library. The program had been changing lives both for the volunteer tutors and learners since its inception. Rebecca Salinas, a longtime Hollister resident and retired educator, has been a tutor for six years.
“I love to teach and I wanted to experience teaching adults, since I had only taught in the elementary grades," she said. "I believe education is the key to the door of opportunity and personal growth; therefore, reading is fundamental. I was fortunate that someone helped me get my education. Tutoring is a small way I can help someone as I was helped.”
Salinas is retired, but she keeps busy. “My greatest challenge is time," she said. " I am the treasurer for the Friends of the San Benito County Free Library as well as a member of several boards of other organizations.”
Her challenges with tutoring have been minor. “At times in the past, my students asked me about subjects (such as a machine or construction terms) that I was not familiar with, but I was fortunate in that the library supplied me with a dictionary of construction terms and other materials I might need, so we could look up the information together.”
For Salinas and many tutors, the successes far outweigh any challenges.
“I have had the good fortune to have tutored many wonderful people,” she remembers. “One young man really stood out, he spoke limited English, but his will to learn was almost palpable. He made me feel that the lessons I taught him were food for his soul and nothing would be wasted. After several years of tutoring, it was a glorious day when he felt confident enough to enroll at Gavilan College and after working very, very hard, he will be graduating this June and will attend a university this coming fall. I am very proud of him!”
When asked what advice she could offer a new tutor, Salinas said, “The library staff makes every effort to pair you with someone they feel will work well with you. It is important that you develop a rapport with your student. Ask for training or materials if you feel you need them. You can also reach out to other tutors if you are having a specific problem. Remember you are giving your student a gift for life—the key to success and personal growth.”
For learners working with a tutor can be life-changing. For instance, Carlos Ramirez, (name changed to protect his identity) has been a learner for six years. Carlos is a Mexican immigrant with a grade-school education, who came to this country seeking a better life.
“In Mexico, I was a peasant," he said. "I remember that in order to buy the basic necessities of life, like food, shoes, clothes, etc., I used to sell wood, eggs, lemons, alfalfa and rabbits,” he says. Carlos enrolled in the adult literacy program at San Benito County Free Library six years ago because he was seeking to strengthen his reading skills. “I am the kind of person who believes that if I work hard, now in the present, I’ll have a great future,” he said, adding, “Since I started the program my life has changed completely. I am a college student who will graduate this year with my associate’s degree (AA) and I hope I can transfer to a university.
In addition to his academic achievements, Carlos has discovered other benefits to strengthening his reading skills.
“Learning how to read is magnificent," he said. "It opened the door to a beautiful world. Even though I am still learning new words, today I am able to read all kinds of books, magazines, newspapers and read all kinds of signs,” he says. “If you are thinking about enrolling but not sure about it,” he advises, “Remember education is your passport to the future. Do not waste this opportunity.
The San Benito County Free Library’s adult literacy program needs tutors. We screen our learners and tutors to provide the best match possible. Training and resources are provided. What we don’t have is you. Choose to make a difference. Volunteer today and give the gift of literacy.
For more information contact Rosa Garcia Library Assistant at (831) 636-4107 ext. 20 or Betty Mason, literacy coordinator at ext. 18.