Indy Reads Helps Adults Get More From Life
What makes people – adults – want to get better at reading and writing? That’s the critical question Indy Reads asks when people come to them hoping to improve their ability to read and write. Their answers serve as a foundation for the goals they’ll set, a key step in the journey to greater literacy…and so much more.
“I want to read to my daughter each night.”
“My boss gave me a promotion, but I can’t take it because I can’t write reports.”
“I need a driver’s license.”
Though the reason for coming to Indy Reads, an organization that helps adults gain literacy skills, may differ, the desired outcome is the same: Indy Reads and their students know better reading and writing skills can be a pathway to a better life – for students and their families.
The Cost of Adult Illiteracy
More than 40,000 adults in Marion County lack basic literacy skills, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. And even more adults lack functional literacy – the ability to understand more complex and essential written information. Without functional literacy, adults might have the ability to read or write very simple sentences with a limited vocabulary, but understanding job listings, bills, prescriptions or children’s homework would be a significant challenge.
The personal costs of illiteracy are great. Employment opportunities are limited. Family stability and children’s academic success can be threatened. Illiteracy correlates with high incarceration rates, poor health outcomes and poverty.
For a community, the costs of illiteracy are also high. A parent’s educational attainment correlates strongly with a child’s educational outcomes, which means that illiteracy can leave a family legacy. Illiteracy is estimated to result in more than $70 million in direct health care costs each year, due to confusion on prescriptions, patients’ decreased ability to advocate for their own health needs, and other challenges. Estimates for the annual national cost of illiteracy for businesses – and for communities’ economic productivity – exceed a billion dollars.
The Opportunity for Change
“A lot of our students have never been asked about their goals before,” says Travis DiNicola, Executive Director of Indy Reads. “Their goals are our focus.”
Before a student meets with volunteer tutors, Indy Reads staff and volunteers provide an initial screening that includes vision testing with a special chart made of shapes, an assessment of current literacy levels and questions about goals. Many students discover that they need glasses in the process and can quickly eliminate a barrier to reading.
After completing an assessment and setting some goals, Indy Reads’ adult students are paired with trained volunteers who work alongside students as they gain new reading and writing skills. Roughly half of students improve their reading level by one grade level in a year. An additional 25 percent of students gain two to five grade levels in a year. The remaining 25 percent encounter more serious barriers to literacy, so Indy Reads helps them focus on the most critical skills for self sufficiency and life skills.
A Community Effort
Indy Reads is only able to accomplish these goals with mix of manpower, hours and support provided by their 570 volunteers. In 2012, the group plans to add 700 more volunteers, as they expand their service area and add new partnerships with other service agencies.
This June, Indy Reads will open a bookstore – Indy Reads Books – at 911 Massachusetts Avenue on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. The group anticipates that the store will be both a revenue generator and a way to expand the community’s awareness of their mission.
“We want Indy Reads Books to be the bookstore for everyone, the downtown bookstore,” says Alex Mattingly, the store manager. “We really want to make sure people can get good books at a good price, and we hope to see some of our Indy Reads students there.”
After opening up book donations in partnership with diverse drop-off locations like the Upland Tasting Room, Big Car’s Service Center, the Jewish Community Center of Indianapolis and several other sites, the Indy Reads offices are jam-packed with boxes of books. But ample space remains for tutoring pairs to work phonemic awareness and writing reports.
“The groundswell of support for the bookstore is really about people wanting to help others learn to read,” Mattingly says.