Lee County Literacy Coalition growing, pursuing new technology while commemorating ‘National Literacy Month’

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By Kelly Daniel
For the Opelika
Observer

 The Lee County Literacy Coalition (LCLC), which provides free basic education to adults, is growing and evolving to meet the changing needs of growing Lee County communities. 
To recognize National Literacy Month, which takes place in September, the LCLC is asking adults to read aloud their favorite children’s book on video and to share their video. In a Facebook post, the LCLC said, “With your help, we hope to demonstrate the joy of reading and engage a community of new learners. Submissions will be posted on social media throughout the month of September. Submit your video link to info@leecountyliteracy.org.”
The LCLC has experienced several changes this year, with new Executive Director Patricia Butts starting in May and new Programs Coordinator Jane Gray Eiland joining the team in July. Both are passionate about making a positive impact in the community.
In an interview, Butts said that through greater leveraging of technology and increased outreach, the LCLC team hopes to grow and help more people.
Butts’s biography describes a career focused on helping others and creating positive change. “After serving in the United States Army, she worked with military families, in the states and aboard, at Fleet and Family Support Centers in the Hampton Roads and Commander, Navy Installations Command in Washington, D.C.,” the biography states. “And, now with Lee County Literacy Coalition, Ms. Butts is skilled in working in complex systems involving private sector, government, philanthropic organizations, community groups and educational institutions.”
Eiland began working for the LCLC after receiving her bachelors degree in Human Development and Family Studies with a minor in Nonprofit Studies.
Eiland said that her interest in literacy began after taking a class in which she learned about the educational disadvantages experienced by children whose parents do not read to them, in many cases because the parents struggle with literacy. The literacy advocacy organization Proliteracy states that when parents struggle with literacy, their children have “a 72 percent chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves.”
Eiland said that her primary objective as the new programs coordinator is to improve and grow the services currently provided by LCLC. These services range from one-on-one tutoring in reading, writing, and math, to workshops focusing on literacy in personal finance, computer skills and the newest centered on health.
“I just want all of those to thrive because each area can help people tremendously, and help them to be successful, especially the computer program, everything (is done using) computers now,” Eiland said.  
Adult literacy programs can help people at the individual, family, and community level. In addition to assisting parents with reading and thus empowering them to support their children’s learning, literacy programs combat many additional negative consequences of low literacy.
People with low literacy tend to have poor health outcomes because of difficulties with finding and using health information, as is explained in the same Proliteracy page referenced earlier.
Also, the unemployment rates and lost productivity associated with low literacy are damaging to economies, costing approximately $225 billion in the U.S. each year. Low literacy is also a problem locally. Dr. Megan-Brette Hamilton, who serves as a professor at Auburn University in the Department of Communication Disorders, said in an LCLC video that about 14,000 adults in Lee County have difficulties with reading and writing.
Plans for Engagement and Learning 
Part of the motivation for providing more technology-based resources is to make it easier to access services. Butts explained that the LCLC is working to provide classes online, enabling anyone to learn from home, regardless of schedule or transportation constraints. She went on to explain that increased participation through online classes may also lead more individuals to tell others about their experiences, thus increasing awareness and engagement. 
Through informing and involving Lee County citizens, the LCLC can help more people.
“We just want to get awareness out there because even though the literacy coalition has been in existence since 1994, a lot of people still don’t know that we’re here and what we do to help,” Butts said. Low literacy learners may not be able to find information on the services available to them, so having other community members who are aware is crucial.  
The LCLC’s current efforts reflect the desire to invite community participation. Events, including‘Read Between the Lines’ and the ‘Great Grownup Spelling Bee,’ continue to be crucial for recruiting volunteers and community partners who can help connect people with LCLC services. 
However, the LCLC is also committed to using social media and other digital formats to increase engagement. The invitation for community members to share videos of themselves reading children’s books is one prime example of such efforts. Another engagement initiative is an upcoming podcast series and newsletter that will be entitled, “How did you become a reader?”
As Butts explained, the podcast will center around starting conversations about literacy in Lee County communities by posing that very question.
“That’s a significant question that we all should ask because we might forget,” Butts said. “(It’s important) just to bring people back and then forward to maybe get them to empathize or understand why someone is not an avid reader, and how they can be helpful.”
Another important aspect of engagement that Butts is focusing on is providing a positive working environment for employees and volunteers. These positive experiences may lead to further volunteering or even lead more people to nonprofit work. She said that one of the main benefits ensuring a positive experience at the LCLC is the supportive Board of Directors. She explained that the board members are happy to staff events, reach out to donors and provide any other assistance to achieve the goals of the LCLC. 
  For anyone interested in becoming a tutor or volunteer, the first step is to contact the LCLC, which can be done using the form on the website www.leecountyliteracy.org/become-a- volunteer. After submitting an application and being approved, prospective tutors may attend a tutor training session, after which they are eligible to be paired with learners. 
 More information on the Lee County Literacy Coalition can be found on their website or by calling at 334-705-0001. The office is located within the Oak Park community, at 1365 Gatewood Drive, #519 in Auburn.

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