Submitted by Jim Foster
Bluffton Rotary Club
The numbers are sobering.
Eleven percent of adults in Beaufort County – 27 percent in Jasper County – are functionally illiterate. They can’t read documents or maps. They can’t fill out a job application. They can’t understand a paycheck stub. They can’t read a story to a child.
Jean Heyduck, executive director of Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry, told Bluffton Rotarians that illiteracy is an economically and socially draining cycle that repeats itself. To cite just one example, she said, children of high school dropouts are five times more likely to have children who themselves become high school dropouts.
“Three out of four adults on welfare are functionally illiterate,” Heyduck said, “and we all pay for that in the form of higher taxes.”
The mission of Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry is to equip local adults with the reading, writing and speaking skills they need to be successful.
Of the 815 adult clients served by the organization last year, 80 percent were employed but in low-wage jobs, Heyduck said. Some were natives of other countries and understood little English, while others were native Americans who could not read or write at the most basic levels.
The organization’s clients are served by its 140 volunteers, who average about four hours of teaching each week in addition to time spent planning lessons.
“Our volunteers are the key,” Heyduck said. “The 20,000 hours of work they put in, if they were paid just the minimum wage, would amount to roughly $150,000.”
Prospective clients are tested at the beginning of the teaching process and then retested as lessons progress.
“I’m proud to say that 95 percent of our students reached at least one of their personal goals,” Heyduck said.
The organization’s biggest need in the Bluffton area is space, she said, noting that there is a waiting list of prospective clients due to a lack of space.
The Bluffton Rotary Club began assisting Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry after a needs assessment that the club used to determine which local organizations might benefit from its assistance. The club recently donated $2,500 to the literacy group to purchase books and instructional materials.
The group can boast a number of success stories. One of Heyduck’s favorites is Maria, who emigrated from Colombia and took a low-wage job in a Hilton Head residential plantation. After sharpening her reading, writing and speaking skills, she began to make progress in her job and now holds a management position. She is applying for U.S. citizenship.
Another success story, a landscaper named Mark, attended tutoring sessions on Sundays and was eventually able to pass his GED exam. Now, instead of working at a landscaping business in a low-wage job, he runs such a business himself.