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Literacy Volunteers
Looking for Space

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — March 26, 2004 – Literacy workers are used to seeing great need.
But they like to meet those needs, and when they have trouble filling one of their most critical, it’s a serious matter.
“We’ve grown so quickly in the last few years, we need space,” says Connie Keller of Monticello.
Keller is the founder and board president of the Sullivan County chapter of Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA), a non-profit organization which provides a variety of free services to help residents achieve personal goals through literacy – in particular, training and offering literacy tutors at no cost to students.
She and LVA Program Director Kara Meckle have dealt firsthand with the space crunch at LVA’s offices in the United Way building on Lakewood Avenue in Monticello.
The Read It Again Bookstore, which offers books at low cost, is bursting at the seams.
The computer lab has seen unprecedented use in enhancing literacy and practical skills.
The office areas they share with other United Way agencies are crammed with papers, desks, chairs – and people.
And except for the bookstore, it’s all upstairs – no handicapped ramp, no elevator, no nothing.
After a rush in interest in the LVA last year, it’s just become too much, says Keller.
Even with 66 tutors, 14 literacy students are on a waiting list, and some tutors are handling two or three students at a time (1-1 is the preferred ratio).
So LVA’s board has come up with a campaign to not only raise awareness but raise funds for a new literacy center.
The goal is ambitious: to acquire by June 31 a minimum 1,500-square-foot building or part of a building to house the bookstore, lab and offices, preferably as close to Broadway in Monticello as possible.
“The further removed we are from Broadway, the harder it is for people to find us,” says Keller, referencing the large number of walk-ins hailing from the immediate area. “And I think if it’s on Broadway, the bookstore would do even better.
“It would become a literacy center.”
Indeed, Keller, Meckle and board members like June Barrett of Smallwood envision classrooms, conference space, expanded lab offerings, children’s story hours, etc.
“Family literacy is the way to go,” says Keller.
But rents on Broadway are some of the highest in the county for commercial property, and LVA operates on a shoestring budget consisting of government and library monies, bookstore sales and “spotty donations,” says Keller.
“The ideal would be to have it [the space] donated,” she explains.
But the board is flexible, she says, appreciative of any donation or idea to make this work.
Because if space continues to be such a pressing issue, it could harm the even more critical work the LVA does every day.
“The battle has not been won,” says Keller. “The need is greater and greater all the time for literacy services.”
“Six percent of our population can’t read or write English,” adds Meckle.
But this is a battle those at LVA plan on winning – hopefully with a new spot not far from their present home.
“Folks are very grateful we’re there for them,” says Barrett.
For more information or to assist the LVA through donations, tutoring or other services, call 794-0017 or e-mail

Democrat Photo by Dan Hust

Maria – native of Philadelphia, resident of Narrowsburg, growing student of Literacy Volunteers of America

My Student, My Friend

By Dan Hust
NARROWSBURG — March 26, 2004 – I met Maria in the summer of 2003.
We sat at a table on a humid June evening, nervously talking to one another about our lives, our goals, our situations.
We weren’t quite sure how the other would feel about this new relationship, how far it might go.
But we were excited nonetheless, and we were eager to learn more about one another.
No . . . it wasn’t the start of a love affair.
This was the beginning of a friendship – and an education for us both.
I was fresh from a three-weekend training session with the Sullivan County chapter of Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA).
Maria was fresh from a long wait for someone to help her on her path to a GED.
And thus an editor of a newspaper and a resident of the Narrowsburg Adult Home met in the crowded, smoky lounge of that home, uncertain as to what might happen next, but ready to give it a try.
Nearly a year later, Maria and I have found out what it means to be a literacy tutor and a literacy student, and we’re vastly the better for it.
It means committing one Wednesday night every week for two hours to the study of our favorite subject: literature.
It means learning more about each other than we ever could have otherwise.
It means watching each other grow in awareness of the world around us and its astounding vastness.
It means learning what life has been like for someone growing up in big-city Philadelphia (Maria) as compared to childhood and adolescence in a tiny town called Kenoza Lake (myself).
It means that the age and background barriers – Maria is a 37-year-old Puerto Rican, while I’m a 28-year-old mishmash of European ancestry – are truly no barrier at all.
It means realizing what we both have in life, not taking anything for granted.
It means, too, wanting so much more.
Of course, we’re both still learning. Indeed, it’s not been since my first days of work that I’ve learned so much about how little I know.
Maria suffers from no such bias of ego – to her, our weekly sessions in the dining room (or, for better peace and quiet, in the hairdressing room) yield one wonderful nugget of information after another.
Sometimes, she gets so wrapped up in reading aloud about astronauts, plants and American history that I think I could vanish and she wouldn’t notice.
And yet we’re a team, working together to accomplish her goals and dreams – and along the way, realize some of mine.
I’ve longed to teach ever since one of my writing teachers in college showed me how fun the English language could be.
Maria’s longed to read better ever since she heard about the LVA program and hitchhiked from Narrowsburg to LVA headquarters in Monticello, years and years after she dropped out of school in the eighth grade.
We’re still working on those dreams, naturally – multisyllabic words still stymie Maria, and for now my teaching skills are fairly worthy of my volunteer status!
But we’re making progress.
Maria has sped through book after book, lesson after lesson, growing in the knowledge of this incredible world around her – and usually locating the next lesson book long before the initial one is finished.
I’ve found a level of satisfaction and pleasure that is rare – the kind that comes from just making someone’s day on a regular basis.
You see, Maria suffers from health and mental difficulties, ones serious enough to require her two sons to stay with other families hundreds of miles away. She’s been through the death of her first husband, and her second struggles alongside her at the adult home.
So every Wednesday evening, Maria gets to leave a sometimes harsh, often boring reality and enter a world of terribly interesting fact and fiction, courtesy of LVA and the tutor lucky enough to work with someone who hitchhiked her way to Monticello to learn about the program – and waited a year between her first and second tutor.
Maria’s also gotten to meet my mother, a dedicated volunteer herself (though not in LVA). Out of that association has come a renewed enjoyment of sewing for the both of them.
Although I’m still waiting for my first shirt courtesy of Maria, her math and logic skills have improved greatly since she returned to her longtime hobby.
But now I’m sounding like a tutor. And while that is what I am, I got involved with LVA to meet new people – first in the training classes, then in the tutoring sessions.
I joined because I wanted to make an impact on somebody, and I wanted them to make a similar impact on me. I wanted to share my knowledge and life experiences with someone eager and willing to listen, and I was ready to have the same returned to me.
Thanks to LVA, that’s exactly what happened, and Maria and I are today as much friends as we are student and teacher.
And that couldn’t have happened any other way.
Sullivan County Democrat Editor Dan Hust is also quite proud to report that Maria read this story in its entirety prior to publication.

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