There have been times in my life when well-meaning friends have told me that when a door closes, a window opens. For the most part, it has proved to be true. However, there are those occasions when a window has not opened, and I have had to face the inevitable knowledge that I have lost something of value. The challenge is to know when to struggle against all odds to keep the door open in the first place and to forget about the window.
Such a struggle is going on today for The Literacy Council of San Luis Obispo County.
The Literacy Council is facing draconian funding cuts that may very well lead to the closing of its doors. If that happens, there will most likely be no one picketing on the front sidewalk in protest or any type of media coverage. Most residents of our county will go about their day completely unaware of the valuable asset they have just lost. Instead, there will be only the quiet emptiness left by the closed doors.
The Literacy Council is a local nonprofit literacy agency that is committed to assisting adult learners (16 and older) in the development of English language skills. The Literacy Council welcomes everyone. The community members who make use of the services offered by The Literacy Council come from all walks of life. Some learners are graduates of U.S. high schools but are not proficient in either reading or writing. Even with a high school diploma in hand, their illiteracy leaves them unable to compete in a difficult job market and often with a large amount of debilitating shame. Other learners are immigrants with a wide range of skill levels, varying from those not literate in their first language to those with advanced graduate degrees earned abroad. Currently, The Literacy Council assists learners from all over the world, including North America, Central America, South America, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Eastern Europe and Northern Africa.
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In the last fiscal year, The Literacy Council provided services to 557 unique learners. These learners were taught by 604 volunteer tutors at one of 14 volunteer-managed learning centers. Both the tutors and learning center managers have been trained by The Literacy Council, and last year these kind souls spent 34,722 hours teaching local learners. It would not be unrealistic to assume that this volume of instruction would require an equally large budget. However, The Literacy Council accomplishes all of this on a shoestring budget. For the fiscal year 2010-11, the budget was $118,000. This sum includes the salaries for one full-time and one part-time employee and all operation costs to instruct 500-600 students. Herein lies the problem. The Literacy Council is partially funded through a partnership with San Luis Obispo County Libraries and serves as the entire county’s literacy program. Additionally, The Literacy Council receives some state funding through the California State Library. The California budget enacted in June 2011 reduced funding for libraries, and a “budget trigger” was put in place to cut even more library (and literacy) funding if state revenue projections are not reached by Dec. 15. What this means is that The Literacy Council received about half of the state funding that it received last year. In addition to state funding cuts, the funding provided by the San Luis Obispo County Libraries has been reduced by 18 percent. These cuts have put in peril the ability of The Literacy Council to continue operations, and additional cuts could land the final blow. At this time there is a very real possibility that The Literacy Council’s doors will close.
Literacy is not just a benefit to the individual; it is also a benefit to the entire community. Literate residents are capable of contributing to our community in a much greater way by maintaining employment and by living independently of our social services system. Literate parents are able to foster the love of reading and the pursuit of a higher education in their children. Literate citizens can better participate in the political process by harnessing the power of the freedom of the press, the freedom of expression and a well-researched and understood vote. Literacy is the cornerstone of a productive, proud and empowered family, community and nation.
The Literacy Council, an organization that has been empowering your parents, neighbors, employees and friends for more than 30 years, now needs your help. Please help keep the door open by making a donation today.
Your donation, large or small, is fully tax-deductible and will be leveraged fully to assist the community by their skilled staff. More information can be found by calling 541-4219 or by visiting www.sloliteracy.org.
The writer is a volunteer with The Literacy Council. Board members Vic Sterling, chairman; Jan Breidenbach, treasurer; Steve English, secretary; Robert Bettencourt and Pat Williams contributed to this piece.