It’s Never Too Late to Start

By Lis Arevalo


“Our next training sessions will be on June 16, 18, and 23,” says Library Counselor Linda Sakamoto-Jahnke. “You just have to download the forms on the Berkeley Public Library web page.”

Could you imagine living with not being able to read and write? Life wouldn’t be too easy if you hadn’t learned these basic skills that allow people to participate in society, would it? According to the Literacy Project Foundation, there are 6 million students in the California school system and 25 percent of them don’t understand what they read. This worsens when it concerns adults: 44 million of them are unable to read a story to their children and 50 percent of these adults cannot read a book written at an eighth grade level. Illiteracy is a major problem because it does not allow people to participate appropriately in society as citizens, workers, or family members.

In 1987 this problem was already identified. The statistics were different; it seems that literacy problems have increased with the advancement of technology, but the results are similar: Americans read below the level needed to earn a living wage, and reading tests at school can serve as early markers along the school-to-prison pipeline.

To help to solve this crisis, Adult Literacy Services are available through California’s public libraries. One of these programs is Berkeley READS. This free, volunteer-based program provides confidential services and literacy support services. Free instructional material is given to participants, and they are matched with a tutor for one-on-one tutoring or assigned to small group instruction. Berkeley READS also offers English literacy instruction for immigrants and literacy in basic computer skills.

The BCC Voice talked to Linda Sakamoto-Janhke, who is the Library Literacy Coordinator at Berkeley Public Library, West Branch. Berkeley READS started about thirty years ago, according to Sakamoto-Jahnke, and it is part of the California Literacy Programs for adults. Volunteers are students and people from different backgrounds who are interested in improving their knowledge about literacy. Some of them come from BCC, as part of the Work and Study Program. Prospective tutors receive free training sessions before they start. They should be older than 18 years old to get engaged in this program, have a high school diploma and interest in different kinds of literacy learning.

The next training program is in June, and is offered in three sessions. This requires a commitment of at least six months to the program. People who want to work with adults should be patient and sympathetic, as well as compassionate, and understand there are many reasons an adult may not have achieved these skills that are considered basic in our society: years in prison serving a sentence, economic disadvantages, a physical condition, etc.

Berkeley READS offers this disadvantaged population not only the opportunity to improve their literacy skills and work with the support of a tutor, but also sessions of Health Literacy, Book Club, Financial Literacy, Cultural Arts Literacy and many more.

The program goes beyond only teaching participants to read and write. Berkeley READS promotes presentations of their new, proud readers who are not only happy because they are able to read a whole book, but also because they can present their feelings and impressions about their readings. This is crucial for building better self-esteem and a better rapport with the community.

College students are welcome to be part of Berkeley READS. Being a volunteer is a fantastic opportunity to meet other people, while improving your skills and building new ones. Volunteers acquire work experience and consciousness about what it means to help others solve their problems.

“Working with challenged populations teaches compassion and sensitivity,” said Sakamoto-Jahnke. “I think it is a good opportunity to develop as a person.”

When volunteering, students can relate the experience to their academic fields and have a lot of material to create new projects in their areas of expertise. Volunteering in a library could be a great pleasure for those who love to read and write, and want to use their skills to help others have better lives, improve their possibilities of getting a job, and help them to be better citizens. Why not take the challenge? Volunteer today!

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