For Ann Stokes, learning to read has been exciting because she has been able to read the Bible daily.
“The most important thing I wanted to learn is reading the Bible,” the 65-year-old Covington resident said. “I understand it and read it all the time.”
Stokes began taking literacy classes and working with a one-on-one tutor a decade ago. “The Lord told me it was my time! It makes my day.”
The literacy class she takes that has enabled her to finally read the Bible is one of two offered through Allen Memorial United Methodist Church in Oxford. Mary Jo Roberts, of Oxford, is one of the tutors working with adults learning to read. In fact, she is Stokes’ tutor.
“It’s really helped her confidence and self-esteem,” Roberts said. The former teacher, Roberts, said she began volunteering to contribute to her community and “to keep my brain active.”
The two women were part of the “Celebration of Literacy/Work Force Development” held Wednesday at Georgia Piedmont Technical College (GPTC) to honor adult literacy volunteers.
Laura Bertram, Executive Director of the Newton County Community Partnership, announced that Newton Family Connection, GPTC’s adult education program, the Covington Housing Authority and Action Ministries are partnering to promote literacy in the county.
“We have decided to participate together to rebuild and reinvigorate the program to make a difference in our children and families,” she said.
The Newton County Community Partnership is a Georgia Family Connection Collaborative, a nonprofit the focuses on networking and relationships between the public and partners providing resources to break the cycle of poverty, increase literacy and high school graduate rates, end childhood hunger, prevent child abuse and adopt other programs that create healthy and safe communities.
In an earlier interview with The News Bertram said, “People who live in poverty hang with people who live in poverty, people who also don’t know how to access resources.
“The job of the partnership is to [gather] the resources we have in the community and help educate people how we can get access to them,” she said. “And that is a one-on-one kind of relationship. You walk side-by-side with the person who needs help.”
She said the people charged with helping those living in poverty — those working in the social services — “are the most overburdened and underpaid section of the community. That includes the Department Family and Children Services (DFCS) and the juvenile justice system for kids on probation.”
By creating partnerships, she said, more can be accomplished because groups helping those in need don’t have to start at ground zero. They can build on the work others have already accomplished, such as building a network of volunteers, like the volunteer tutors who have been working to increase adult literacy and completion of GED programs.
Covington mayor speaks
Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston echoed the need for partnerships in the community. He said the city had recently formed an initiative called Covington Cares, to address unemployment and poverty, community livability, literacy and hunger
“The focus is on four things, one being finding and partnering with groups that address poverty and literacy,” Johnston told the audience. “One of my goals is to eliminate poverty. We’re trying to create an environment to attract jobs.”
Johnson said the city would be announce a number of projects in the next three- to six-months that will bring in over half-a-million dollars in investment and more than 3,000 jobs to Covington.
“That is where this initiative [Covington Cares] comes in,” he said. “These are not low paying jobs.”
That means, he said, it’s important to have a work force with the education and skills needed and ready to work. “We’re trying to be the number one place to live and work in Georgia, and in the entire Southeast.
The projects to be announced will provide opportunities to residents, he said.
“It doesn’t matter where you’ve been, how old you are, what you’ve done. I want people to walk through that door [to opportunities]. If you don’t want to walk through the door, if you don’t want to take advantage of the opportunities, please leave my town.”
Making do with less
Jackie Echols, Vice President of Adult Literacy at GPTC said the college has been in adult education for a long time. “We’re doing our share dealing with Georgia’s literacy program.”
She said about one million adults in the state do not have a high school diploma, according to recent surveys. That number, she said, is down from 1.2 million. “To see the number go down indicates what we’re doing has an impact.”
But the literacy is still a big problem, she said, “so big, 75 percent who test into adult education test out between a second and sixth grade level. To pass and earn a GED, you need to read at a ninth grade level.”
Newton County Community Partnership has entered into a memorandum of agreement with GPTC to provide tutoring so those wanting to earn their GED can reach that ninth grade reading level. “The more help they can get, the further they can go,” Echols said.
Katrina Young, Director of Continuing Education at GPTC, said, “When [adults] know how to read and get their GED, we can get them more training.”
“We have a lot of people who need our help,” Betram said. “We don’t need to be giving [people a book]. A book doesn’t mean anything if you don’t know how to read.”
Betram said the city was provided a room at the Covington Housing Authority that has computers and will serve as a place for a literacy center.
Newton County was named to the 2016 honor roll of the Certified Literate Community Program (CLCP) of Georgia.
“This is a community of volunteers,” Betram said.