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Memphis organization works to improve adult literacy rates and erase stigma

Literacy Mid-South works to combat declining literacy rates and encourage people to learn how to read at any age.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Literacy Mid-South is working to improve adult reading rates and erase the stigma surrounding learning how to read at an older age through their adult literacy program.

Rhiannon Lewis Defeo is a volunteer tutor for Literacy Mid-South and Beonka Powell is Defeo’s learner.

“I went in with the goal to learn just as much about Beonka as I could so that I could choose texts that she would be interested in,” Defeo said.

As an adult tutor for Literacy Mid-South, a huge objective is catering literacy education to the learners’ interests.

“She just touches bases on what my interests are,” Powell said. “So whatever I like, she’ll bring. Like we were doing a reading on Erykah Badu."

“She really enjoys music so some of our first texts that we read together were about some of the artists that she really likes,” Defeo said.

All of this is being done with a focus on improving Beonka’s reading ability.

“If there’s a word that’s unfamiliar for Beonka in writing, I’ll have her either try to sound it out or write it on the whiteboard,” Defeo said.

The one-on-one work makes the biggest difference for Beonka.

“Being in the classroom and the teacher is teaching like 30 other students - I’m more of a one-on-one type of person, I have to have that,” Powell said.

The program not only works to better reading skills but also increases many learning trips to libraries to get in more time with some of their favorite books.

“I go to the library more, I read more, I read every day now,” Powell said.

Lee Chase, the adult program coordinator, said the program’s intention is to better adult literacy while also erasing the stigma surrounding learning how to read at an older age.

“The biggest thing we’ve been focusing on is to eradicate the stigma around low literacy for adults,” Chase said. “We started this back in May – we have a campaign called “Share Your Skill” and the idea behind that is that on a bookmark, they are encouraged to write or draw their skill. We just want to highlight that no matter somebody’s reading level, no matter their English level, everybody has a skill, everybody is good at something.”

For more on how to become a learner or volunteer tutor, you can go to the Literacy Mid-South website here.

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