Shortly after he saw a television special on adult illiteracy, Hans Clements happened to pick up a flyer that told about a volunteer tutor program at the Newhope Library in Santa Ana. Tutors were needed to work on a one-to-one basis with adults who wanted to improve their reading and writing skills.
"I'd never tried to teach anything before," Clements said. "But after seeing the television program, I began to wonder what life would be like if I couldn't read. So I decided tutoring would be a worthwhile thing to try."
Clements completed a 15-hour training session and in February was assigned to work with Jim, a warehouse supervisor who had never learned to read. "He was
very eager to make progress," Clements said. "So we decided to meet at the library for two hours every Tuesday and Thursday night."
At first, Jim could barely struggle through a book written at the third-grade level. But after three months of steady improvement, he is taking on more difficult tasks, like reading newspapers and instruction manuals.
"It's fun to see how much difference it has made in his life," Clements said. "Tutoring takes a lot of time and patience, but I've gotten back 100% of
what I've put into it."
The need for volunteer tutors increases every year, according to Marian Mosher of the South Coast Literacy Council. "Adult illiteracy has received a lot of media attention recently, and people are less afraid to come forward for help," she said.
The literacy problem is compounded in Orange County by the increasing number of immigrants arriving every year who need help learning English. According to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Orange County now ranks fourth
in the nation in the number of immigrants received every year. And the INS estimate does not include those who live here illegally.
"We have a mixture of ability levels among the recent immigrants. Many of them have highly developed skills in their native language, and when they come here it's frustrating not to be able to communicate. They are very motivated to learn English and qualify for a better job," Mosher said. "Others have weak skills in their own language, and that's why individual tutoring works so well. The instruction is centered around the student's rate of learning."
Mosher has taught people from 17 different countries since becoming a tutor five years ago. "I've made some lifetime friends. It's very rewarding," she said.
Tutor training sessions are sponsored by the Orange County Public Library and Orange County's four volunteer literacy councils. The free workshops are held year-round in 75 locations throughout the county. Volunteer tutors receive free instructional materials and certification as a literacy trainer. Literacy councils assist in matching students and teachers, who meet at mutually convenient times and locations.
Hours: Hours vary, but most tutor training workshops are conducted during evenings and on weekends.
Address: Workshops are held in public libraries and selected sites throughout Orange County. Contact the California Literacy Council at the number listed below for information on upcoming training sessions.
Telephone: (818) 282-2196
Miscellaneous information: The minimum qualification to become a volunteer tutor is the ability to read and write in English. No college degree, teaching credential or foreign language ability is required.