Literacy goes hand in hand with better families

ougherty County about 1/3 of residents read below the fifth-grade level, Family Literacy Connection Executive Director Sandy Bamford told an Albany civic club.

"If we are to help a child, we have to help the parents read," Bamford said. "Parents come to us as high school dropouts, teen single moms and are the poorest and neediest of our county. We don't give them fish, we teach them to fish."

Speaking at the Exchange Club of Albany's regular Friday meeting, Bamford explained a bit of how her group helps illiterate families break out of the cycle of poverty that their ignorance keeps them in.

"We teach parents parenting skills, how to support their children as they grow and help their children to be successful in school," Bamford said. "We have children and parents in activities together that help with the child's development. We have home visits with literacy-based lessons in the home."

The 8-year-old group has had much success with its adult students passing the high school equivalency tests and going to college.

A 26-year-old single mother came to the classes a few years back not able to read, Bamford said. Thanks to the education and support of Family Literacy Connection, that woman has an associate's degree and is working on her bachelor's.

"She is currently in a Pizza Hut management training program," Bamford said. "And her daughter just graduated high school. Another graduate is a pharmacy technician, and five of our graduates are on dean's lists at colleges."

For comparison, Bamford said that 43 percent of adults with low literacy skills live in poverty. However, less than 5 percent of adults with strong literary skills live in poverty.

Perhaps with unintended irony, Bamford made a pitch for her "Skip a Lunch, Save a Bunch" fundraising program as the group finished their pecan pie a la mode luncheon deserts.

Giving up one lunch a week and donating $5 to the literacy program would help the group continue its work, she explained.

The literacy group's work with families fits right in with the Exchange Club's goal of eliminating child abuse, said Barney Knighton, the club's president-elect.

"I don't know a better way to prevent child abuse than to educate parents," Knighton said.

As a community-oriented organization, the club donated $500 each to GraceWay, an alcoholism and addiction recovery center for women, and Liberty House, a service that helps victims of domestic violence.