Literacy programs look to continue despite cuts

Doug Newton, of Wyalusing, entered the Bradford/Wyoming County Literacy Program unable to read. He now attends college and expects to graduate next spring.

BY STACI WILSON

Doug Newton’s church choir director asked him to sing a solo and handed him the sheet music. The Wyalusing man knew he couldn’t sing it.

He couldn’t read the words.

That promptedNewton, a high school graduate, to seek out the Bradford/Wyoming Literacy Program in 1992.

Newtonsaid, “A lot of people who do have high school diplomas can’t read.”

“I hid my illiteracy in shame,”Newtonsaid, “but I don’t have to hide it anymore because of this program.”

After the state withdrew funding for adult literacy programs, directors from those programs Sherry Spencer (Bradford/Wyoming), Larry Hahn (Tunkhannock Area Adult School), Marilyn Morgan (Susquehanna) and Jacci West (Wayne/Pike) met in New Milford Wednesday to discuss the future of county literacy programs.

But the budgets of the literacy programs in northeast Pennsylvania have lost all state funding, including the program that servedNewton.

He joined literacy program directors from Bradford/Wyoming, Susquehanna, Wayne/Pike counties andTunkhannockAreaAdultSchoolgathered Wednesday morning at the Susquehanna County Family Literacy office inNew Milfordto discuss the funding cuts and outline the future of the programs.

Greg Banks, a board member of the Susquehanna County Literacy Program, said, “We were informed this week the state would no longer fund the program.”

Literacy programs not only teach adult learners how to read; volunteer tutors also help prepare them to get a GED, get into to college or to find a job.

April Welch, of Susquehanna, is pursuing her GED through the county literacy program. She hopes to go on to college and earn a degree in the medical field.

April Welch, of Susquehanna, has been in the Susquehanna County Literacy Program since 2007 and is working toward earning her GED.

Welch said she wants to be a role model for her children and fulfill her personal dream of going to college.

“The program has helped me a lot,” she said.

According to Banks, the Susquehanna County Literacy Program relied on the state for about 55 percent of its funding.

Three of the programs – Susquehanna,Bradford/WyomingandTunkhannockAreaAdultSchoolhad joined together to apply for funding this year.

“We were told (the application) wasn’t regionalized enough,” said Susquehanna County Literacy program director Marilyn Morgan. She said the cuts appear to have been made in small programs.

Wayne/Pike Adult Literacy Program Director Jacci West said they had not applied for funding because changes made earlier this year in the program guideline requirements for state funding would have had negatively impacted the program.

State funding comprised about 70 percent of the Bradford/Wyoming County program budget. That program is sponsored by theBradfordCountylibrary and has an office in Towanda.

Sherry Spencer, program director for Bradford/Wyoming Co., said that up until now funding for adult literacy programs had received continued bipartisan support in the state legislature since the 1980s.

Tunkhannock Area Adult School’s Larry Hahn said about 75 percent of the program was funded through the state with the school district handling the remaining 25 percent of the program costs.

“The school district is now scrambling because they don’t want to see the program die,” Hahn said.

Setting it apart from the others, Susquehanna County Literacy is a stand-alone program with no “parent” supporting entity, Morgan said.

Morgan has been forced to lay-off the two people on the literacy staff.

And Banks said the cuts hold ramifications for the future of the region.

According to Banks, about 13 percent ofSusquehannaCountyresidents are functionally illiterate.  “That’s a staggering number,” he said.

Hahn said that 16 percent ofWyomingCountyresidents do not have a high school diploma. “That’s over 3,000 people inWyomingCounty. That number struck home with me. We need to do a job here.”

Although faced with significant financial issues, all of the county directors are committed to doing that job but they are looking for community support in the form of volunteers as well as donations.

Williams Energy spokesperson Helen Humphreys offered the company’s support with a $5,000 donation to the Susquehanna County Literacy Program. She said the natural gas industry needs workers who are able to read.

It’s a commitment that has not gone unnoticed by Williams Energy.

Williams’ Corporate Communications Specialist Helen Humphreys said, “The natural gas industry in the area presents a tremendous opportunity but you can’t share in that opportunity if you can’t read.”

Humphreys announced Williams would be making a $5,000 donation to theSusquehannaCountyprogram and she challenged others to donate as well.

“Without a strong literacy program, too many of our residents will forever lose the opportunity to benefit from this economic boon,” said Humphreys.

Newtonand Welch may be well-poised to take advantage of those opportunities – and they credit the literacy programs for helping them on that path.

Newton, who said he was a special education student in high school, now attends college and expects to graduate with a two-year degree in 2012.

“If there is anything I can do to fight illiteracy I would do it,” saidNewton. “I want to make sure students who need help to get their GED, citizenship or learn to read have the same opportunities that I had.”