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Newton County Reads names new chair
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Newton County Reads, a nonprofit, community service organization, has taught adults in Newton County to read since 2000. Their free classes in basic reading skills and GED preparation are conducted through small group instruction and one-on-one tutoring at six locations throughout the county, providing program access to Newton County residents in their own neighborhoods.

Kathy Fowler, retired from Georgia Piedmont Technical College, is a resident of Covington and has a master's degree in adult education. She replaces long-time chairman Greg Shy, who was instrumental in the founding of NCR. Shy will continue his support of the organization as a board member. "These past 12 years have been the most rewarding of my life," Shy said. "NCR is one of the most successful nonprofits in the county. It has touched so many lives."

NCR was founded with the goal of making Newton County a Certified Literate Community. "Literacy equals economic development," Fowler said. "The ability to read and learn equals the ability to earn." According to the Northeast Georgia State of the Workforce Report, 90 percent of NE Georgia employers report a difficulty in obtaining qualified employees.

"Literacy is not only important to every individual's quality of life, it is an important factor in the recruitment of retail businesses to the community," Fowler said. "Many businesses research literacy rates in communities when choosing their locations." The Workforce Report also shows that Georgia residents without a high school diploma earn an average of $7,367 less per year than those with a high school diploma. "Companies want to put their stores where people have the salaries to purchase their goods," Fowler said.

When NCR was founded, 25.3 percent of adults over the age of 25 in Newton County did not have a GED or high school diploma; 23 percent of Newton County residents over the age of 16 who were not in school could not read a newspaper or add the costs of a store purchase.

"We've come a long way with great support from the community," Fowler said. The 2010 Census shows that the percentage of adults in Newton County without a GED or high school diploma has dropped to 14 percent, which is below the national average of 16.8 percent. The percentage of Newton County residents with less than a ninth grade education is 4.7 percent, below the national average of 6.1 percent.

However, there is still a great deal of work to be done and new challenges are on the horizon. The Georgia Department of Education recently announced that the 2011 high school dropout rate in Newton County was 15 percent, almost double the national rate of 7.4 percent reported by the U.S. Department of Education.

The economic downturn has made it difficult for nonprofits in recent years and NCR is no exception. Grants and donations are the only sources of funding for NCR.

Its all-volunteer board of directors are calling on the community for help. "Now is the time for our community to recommit its support to ensure that the good work being done can continue," Fowler said.

She also said the group is especially in need of English as a Second Language volunteers.

All NCR teachers and tutors are non-paid volunteers. Classroom space at six locations throughout the county is provided at no cost to NCR by Allen Memorial United Methodist Church, First United Methodist Church, the Good Shepherd Church, the Housing Authority of Covington, Nelson Heights Community Center and the Garden Shelter, but funds are needed for books, supplies, computers and updated computer software for programs to continue.

Due to the large number of new enrollees, additional volunteers are also needed for teaching and mentoring students.

Those interested in volunteering may call the NCR office at (678) 342-7943.