Janet* was homeless. Her only worldly possession was a car that she couldn’t even drive. She had failed her driver’s test five times because she couldn’t read. Without a driver’s license, she couldn’t get a job, which, in turn, meant that she also couldn’t regain custody of her two young children who had been placed in foster care because of her destitute situation. To Janet, life seemed hopeless.
Then, hope suddenly appeared in the form of the Literacy Coalition of Kokomo, Indiana, a facility where individuals age 16 and older receive tutoring to improve their reading, writing, and spelling skills. Janet began attending classes there and was introduced to a phonics software program called Reading Horizons. She set a goal to pass her driver’s test, and it was not long before she did so.
Bob Stephenson, executive director of the Literacy Coalition, credits Reading Horizons for contributing to Janet's success. Since the facility has a hard time recruiting enough volunteer tutors for all of their students, they often start students on Reading Horizons during the waiting period until a tutor can be found. However, he says, many students don’t want a tutor when one becomes available.
“They like Reading Horizons,” Stephenson states. “It works for them. We can start students right where they need to be.”
Another reason Stephenson likes Reading Horizons is that,in addition to teaching literacy, it addresses basic computer skills.
“Computer literacy is every bit as important as reading literacy,” he says. “(The program) starts them off on the computer that they were intimidated by just a few minutes earlier. I know they go home and tell their spouses or their children, ‘I worked on a computer program today, and I did well.’”
The Literacy Coalition fills an important need for a population that is often invisible in Kokomo. According to Stephenson, the coalition is the only center in the community that provides help to adults struggling with illiteracy, and he is confident that it’s doing that job very well.
“People who go through our program,” he explains, “become better parents, better workers, better neighbors – just because they have more skills.”
Foremost among that group are people like Janet. When she came back to visit the center several months after passing her driver’s test, she had a steady job with good pay and benefits. She also had her own apartment and would soon be regaining custody of her children.
“I keep that story close to my heart,” Stephenson says. “I don’t consider (this) my job; I consider it my work. It’s what I want to be remembered for after I leave this world.”
He will, indeed, be remembered. Janet, and other students like her whose lives have been changed by Stephenson’s work, are not likely to forget.
For more information about the Literacy Coalition of Kokomo, please call (765) 459-4484.
*Name has been changed.