CH@T: During National Reading Month, literacy group focuses on tutoring, prepping for spring fundraiser

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Chatham Literacy’s staff and volunteer tutors provide literacy services and help residents gain a variety of life skills. This week, we speak with Executive Director Vicki Newell about promoting literacy and about the organization’s upcoming spring fundraising event.

This is Newell’s 11th year with the Chatham County Literacy Council, more commonly known now as Chatham Literacy. While staying home for six years to raise her three sons, she volunteered on the boards of Family Violence and Rape Crisis Services and the PTA of Pittsboro Elementary School. Newell has a master’s degree in health communication from Johns Hopkins University and worked for six years with the Smart Start Initiative as a health specialist at the state level and as a program director at the Chatham County level.

A former member of the Peace Corps in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she speaks French and Tshiluba (with a lot of effort). You can reach her at 919-742-0578 or at vicki@chathamliteracy.org.

March is National Reading Month. How are you encouraging reading at Chatham Literacy?

Great question. All of our adult learners are taught to read as part of the tutoring services they receive, regardless of the program. All of the educational materials we use are designed to teach students on all four components of language acquisition: listening, speaking, reading and writing. We also have adult books available that are written for earlier literacy levels. As a result of COVID-19, we now offer our learners a digital learning app that is convenient and adapts to their schedule.

A love of learning happens as a result of the relationship established between the learner and the tutor. Each tutor takes time to get to know their learner and then individualizes the teachings in response to their interests and needs. A true bond is established that typically goes beyond the classroom, and beyond a learner and tutor’s time with Chatham Literacy.

We’ve discussed the pandemic’s impact on Chatham Literacy before and the work you do. Now that we see some easing of COVID and pandemic restrictions, how is your work there changing?

Cautiously, we are rebuilding our in-person tutoring activities, but are retaining distance learning for both our learners and tutors. Distance learning enables us to serve adult learners who require flexibility and to enroll learners in the digital learning app at the time of intake, instead of placing them on a waiting list. Our more conventional in-person training allows us to meet the needs of those who are less comfortable with digital learning and offers a more intense learning experience.

Our transformational educational services encompass traditional literacy, civics and language literacy and life skills literacy:

• Traditional literacy: To help adults improve their basic education in reading, writing and math to prepare them for the GED, to enroll in a vocational degree or to ready themselves for training opportunities to advance their work.

• Civics and language literacy: To help adults learn to speak, read and write, and understand English. We also help prepare adults for the citizenship exam.

• Life skills literacy: To help prepare adults for the expectations and norms in today’s society and workplace. We offer workforce soft skills training, computer literacy and digital skills. We will begin piloting support for adults in need of financial literacy.

Chatham Literacy’s “Spring for Literacy” event is just around the corner. Give us an overview.

Rarely do you have the chance to experience the life of someone fascinating — in person! On Tuesday, April 5, our annual “Spring for Literacy” Luncheon will feature John Rosenthal, a legendary UNC professor, noted photographer and extremely popular former National Public Radio host. And what’s even better, John will also highlight his new, highly acclaimed memoir, “Searching for Amylu Danzer.”

North Carolina author Clyde Edgerton said John’s memoir about a girlfriend in his youth, who took her own life, is not only a page turner, but will “knock you down in the way books are supposed to knock you down.” This compassionate personal story took John years to write because he says this book is also about the essence of true friendship, love, the burden of loss and the persistence of memory.

John will also highlight some of his photographs currently on display in museums and venues nationwide. Luncheon participants have a chance to win one of his most acclaimed photographs called “Central Park.” And don’t forget, for years John was also beloved by many people in North Carolina and nationwide for his spellbinding mini-essays on National Public Radio.

This event will take place at Governors Club from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

At the Spring for Literacy Luncheon, Chatham Literacy is selling raffle tickets for a chance to win John’s famed “Central Park” photograph. This spellbinding picture is a 26” x 19.25” print, valued at $800. The winner will be drawn during the program on April 5. You do not need to be present to win. Raffle tickets are one ticket for $20, or three tickets for $50.

Why is it important and why will it be fun to support Chatham Literacy by attending this luncheon?

This is Chatham Literacy’s largest fundraiser of the year. It not only offers great speakers, fun games and great prizes, it also provides a wonderful way for people to again gather together.

The author luncheon offers a fun and interactive experience. When you arrive, you can try your luck at creating your own poetry using only book titles, see how much you know about Chatham Literacy’s English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, win great door prizes and socialize with your friends, and not to mention, make new ones.

Most importantly, the funds raised through this event go directly into Chatham Literacy’s programs, which help so many in our community realize their literacy goals — whether that is improving their ability to read and write in English, becoming a U.S. citizen, obtaining a new job or a promotion, or talking to a doctor without the help of their child as an interpreter! We are also proud that you will hear from one of our adult learners and her tutor about their experiences and achievements. By participating in this event, together we are helping to build better futures.

How will your organization use the funds generated by this event?

Funds from this event will go directly into our services. These funds will help us enhance programming and engage more adults in existing and new programs. Our goal for this year is to provide free tutoring to 160 adults through a combination of in-person and distance learning. Since COVID-19, our learners (and tutors!) have really progressed and gained technical and computer skills to be able to conduct classes virtually. Distance learning is here to stay!

Although Chatham Literacy does not create jobs, we prepare citizens to better access and take part in the job market. Chatham Literacy strives to build an educated workforce so that as businesses expand and arrive to Chatham County, they will hire locally — strengthening families, our community and Chatham County. Literacy leads to gainful employment, financial mobility, family stability, improved health care, and better opportunities and outcomes for the next generation.

How can people find out more about the John Rosenthal event and about Chatham Literacy?

Tickets are available through March 28 for the Spring for Literacy Luncheon.

Luncheon tickets are $100 per person, $75 of which is tax deductible. Tables seat 10 people.

We still have a few tables of 10 seats available. So, gather your friends, have a fun date together and at the same time help support Chatham Literacy’s efforts to improve lives through literacy in our community. Contact us to:

• Register for the Spring for Literacy Luncheon

• Buy raffle tickets to win the Central Park print

• Volunteer with Chatham Literacy

Find more information about Chatham Literacy online  or by calling 919-742-0578.

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