ORLANDO, Fla. – One in 5 adults in Central Florida read at or below a fifth grade level. The Adult Literacy League is trying to change that.
Every week, up to 1,500 people take classes with the Orlando nonprofit.
Vince Scalise is one of 300 volunteer tutors who help teach basic reading and writing, conversational English and preparation for taking the GED test and the citizenship exam.
Scalise was at the head of the classroom teaching English as a second language, the day we visited.
The retired salesman held the student's attention with humor. "I just try to put people at ease, make them relax, try to have some fun" Scalise said. "I think, if you have a little bit of fun, it's easier to remember things."
Executive Director Gina Berko-Solomon said volunteers such as Scalise, who do not have a background in teaching, keep the program going.
"Our volunteers are not teachers," Berko-Solomon said. "They're CPAs. They're moms. They're nurses. They're doctors. And they want to volunteer."
Berko-Solomon said she started as a volunteer in 1999. "As soon as I was in the building and was matched with a student, I was hooked," she said.
The Adult Literacy League matches volunteers with students for one-on-one tutoring.
Mary Von Mutius works with Anthony Baptiste once a week. Baptiste, originally from Barbados, is sharpening his reading skills. "It makes me feel more confident," Baptiste said, " I don't have anyone at home to help me if I get a letter or if I need to pay bills."
Baptiste fits into a growing category of students, in which 80% are learning the English language and come from around 70 countries.
"I would say the majority of our students have some proficiency. They're able to read and write in English and they're definitely literate in their native language, but they're nervous," Berko-Solomon said. "They need to get a job, they need to communicate with doctors and they need to speak English. So they're here for whatever amount of time it takes to improve and they're off and about life."
The nonprofit was established 50 years ago by a group of educators and has been in its Michigan Avenue offices for the last 20 years.
This year, some of the funding it has relied on was dropped and, as a result, it was forced to reduce its staff and now it is looking for a new location.
If you would like to learn more about volunteering opportunities, visit adultliteracyleague.org.
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