Written by Hanna Lee
In the United States, 63 million adults â€” 29 percent of the countryâ€™s adult population â€”donâ€™t read well enough to understand a newspaper story written at the eighth grade level. This disheartening statistic is what prompted the 2002 merger of Laubach Literacy International and Literacy Volunteers of America to form ProLiteracy. The two organizations came together to combine their international and national campaigns to stomp out illiteracy across the globe. ProLiteracy Director of Communications, Amy Schmitz, has always worked for nonprofits. â€śMy values really lie with nonprofits,â€ť explains Schmitz. â€śI became so engaged with ProLiteracy because at the end of the day I know Iâ€™m making this huge difference in peopleâ€™s lives.â€ť
According to Schmitz, adult literacy is an issue that crosses every age group and every demographic. Literacy is defined as the ability to read, write, compute, and use technology at a level that enables an individual to reach his or her full potential as a parent, employee and community member.
â€śThere is a skewed percentage of illiteracy among populations of minorities or at-risk populations, but at the end of the day, anyone can struggle with reading,â€ť Schmitz affirms. Of that, 63 million adults reading at the eighth grade level, 30 million adult Americans function at below a 5th grade reading level. â€śThese statistics are impactful because the majority of material that is produced for American adults is at a 12th grade reading level or higher.â€ť Schmitz explains how information distributed by doctorâ€™s offices, government offices, police or fire departments would be hard for some American adults to understand. â€śYouâ€™re dealing with 93 million Americans who can not fully understand everything they should as adults.â€ť
ProLiteracy provides professional development and training, technical assistance, publications, online resources, and credentialing services for program directors, instructors, trainers, and volunteer tutors working with adult learners in the United States. Additionally, ProLiteracy advocates for public policy to benefit adult learners and the people/programs that serve them. â€śAdult literacy and education has not been reauthorized since the 1990s and funding for our programs has stagnated so one of the policies we want to see reauthorized is the Work Force Investment Act,â€ť Schmitz explains. â€śWe want to show the link between low literacy and workforce development.â€ť She points out that although unemployment fell to 8.5 percent in the last quarter of 2011, 14.3 percent of Americans are unemployed because they donâ€™t have high school diplomas. â€śYou canâ€™t have a vibrant economy with that many people unemployed. It is in the best interest of our country to reauthorize the Investment Act to help people learn how to read and write,â€ť affirms Schmitz.
There are 1,100 member organizations affiliated with ProLiteracy across the country. Of the affiliated organizations, 55% use only volunteers for their literacy programs. At an annual conference every year, professional development teachers, trainers, volunteers and adult learners come together to teach and learn about topics ranging from the GED to digital and social media. The conference also offers networking opportunities to allow people to connect with others around the nation. The next conference is already set to take place from October 31st-November 2nd 2013 in Washington D.C.
While there are a myriad of rewarding aspects to Schmitzâ€™s career at ProLiteracy, the most inspirational moments have occurred in seeing someoneâ€™s life transformed because theyâ€™ve learned to read and write. Schmitz recalls a story about a 70-year-old man in Maryland who was finally able to read a book to his grandson. â€śBeing able to read is such a relatively small thing that people take for granted and when you hear that someone spent their whole life not being able and then in their 70s they finally can,â€ť Schmitz says in awe. â€śIâ€™ve learned that itâ€™s so important for everyone to not give up hope. Iâ€™m constantly reminded that there is always an opportunity for self improvement and transformation in life.â€ť
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