Why I’ve Become Passionate About Adult Literacy, And Why I Hope You’ll Join Me
By Kerry McArdle, Executive Director of Literacy Action
I recently left the world of K-12 education to become Executive Director of Literacy Action, the largest adult literacy nonprofit in Georgia. The reactions I get when I talk about our work have been eye-opening:
“It can’t be that big a problem. Everyone I know can read!”
“We need to invest in children, not adults.”
“It’s too late for them. They had their chance.”
September was National Literacy Month, after reflecting on this busy time I’d like to share a little of what I have learned about adult literacy during my time at Literacy Action.
It is a big problem. In fact, one in six Georgians are low-literate. It isn’t always apparent – I’ve seen at Literacy Action some very savvy and creative compensation strategies – but it is real. This has huge implications for individuals, from lack of access to living-wage jobs to things as fundamental as the safety risk of not being able to read instructions on a medicine bottle. It also has a significant impact on our state; a recent study by the Georgia Literacy Commission estimates low literacy costs Georgia over $1.2B a year in social services and lost tax revenue.
We need to invest in adults – and by doing so we are also investing in children. Parents are children’s first teachers, and children with low-literate parents have a strong probability of reading below grade level themselves. At Literacy Action about half of our adult learners have school-aged children or grandchildren. Building these adults’ literacy is also building their ability to support their children’s academic success, helping to break the intergenerational cycle of low literacy.
It’s not too late for them. At Literacy Action we have served students ranging in age from 16 to 86 who are proving every day that it’s not too late – by using their increasing literacy to earn GEDs, get jobs or better jobs, gain entry into higher education or workforce training programs, and read their first book cover-to cover. Students who walk through our doors find a stigma-free environment with classes at every level, and every time I walk into one I am inspired by the motivation, hard work, and courage of adults who have come to us to build better lives for themselves and their families through education.
50 years ago, Mary Hammond founded Literacy Action in a church basement in 1968. The Junior League of Atlanta, Inc. (JLA) soon joined the effort and helped our organization become a lead institution in teaching writing and reading skills, by providing funding, volunteers and leadership to Literacy Action. Our relationship continues to this day, and each year the President-Elect of JLA serves on our Board of Trustees.
Literacy Action celebrates fifty years of service this year, and we are grateful to all who have made these many years of impact possible. As we enter a new decade, with new challenges and opportunities on the horizon, we know we cannot do this alone. We hope you will support us as we continue to work to change lives, one word at a time.
Kerry McArdle is Executive Director of Literacy Action, the largest and oldest adult literacy nonprofit in Georgia. This year, Literacy Action will serve more than 1,000 students and provide approximately 130 classes in adult basic education (including reading, writing, and math), GED preparation, family literacy, digital literacy, English as a Second Language, and workforce literacy.