If you’re reading this right now, you know how to read. “Of course I know how to read!” you might be thinking – but in Northeast Ohio, statistics show that a staggering number of adults do not.
This summer marks 15 years since the National Assessment of Adult Literacy report showed that 47 percent of adults in Cuyahoga County had literacy levels below the eighth grade – and in the City of Cleveland itself, that number rose to a whopping 69 percent.
The statistics are stark and worrisome: Individuals who struggle with literacy are less likely to graduate from high school and thus less likely to make as much money as their literate peers. In fact, adults who haven’t graduated from high school or completed a GED equivalent reportedly earn 42 percent less than those with diplomas – and adults who fall into the category of “functionally illiterate” may struggle with everyday functions like reading bus schedules, utility bills, and doctor’s instructions.
Since the 2003 report, Cleveland has changed in a myriad of ways, including the creation of organizations, programs, and initiatives that work tirelessly to address the city’s literacy problems. Here are three organizations working to increase literacy in Northeast Ohio – and how you can support their vital work.
The Literacy Cooperative was created in 2006 as a direct result of the 2004 literacy report, a joint initiative of several Cleveland-based foundations. It aims to create equality through literacy, focusing on key areas like early childhood literacy, career pathway engagement, and public policy.
The Literacy Cooperative promotes literacy through initiatives and programs that support reading challenges, high school equivalency programs, workplace literacy programs and more. In other words? If it relates to literacy in Cleveland, you can bet that the Literacy Cooperative is working on it or, at the very least, has the resources for you to learn more.
Get involved: The 2019 Cleveland Corporate CLE-Bee is an adult spelling bee in which eight teams go head to head in a fast-paced spelling competition that ultimately raises money for the Literacy Cooperative – and gives bragging rights to the winning company or organization, like past victors Cuyahoga Community College and Cleveland Public Library.
Or try this: Not a champion speller yourself but want to support the organization? Here are 10 ways to do so.
Recognizing that illiteracy is one of the root causes of poverty, Seeds of Literacy provides free basic education and test prep to more than 900 Cleveland-area adults each year.
“You are in charge of your own success,” Seeds of Literacy tells its students, but its tutors are there to help: Two hundred volunteer tutors provide one-on-one guidance on an ongoing basis, helping students prepare to take the GED®, HiSET®, or TASC® (and to first determine which test is right for them). And because the organization is open year-round, with registration opportunities on a weekly basis, students can study at their preferred pace – no matter how long it might take.
Get involved: Seeds of Literacy is always looking for additional tutors, and because the organization trains all of its volunteers, you need not be an educator to become a tutor. They’re especially in need of bilingual tutors who are fluent in both English and Spanish.Or try this: If you can’t commit to tutoring but still want to get involved, check out their fundraising events, or subscribe to their newsletter to learn about other opportunities as they arise.
What becomes of old books? If you’ve ever wondered what to do with the lightly used books that your kids no longer read, turn to the Cleveland Kids Book Bank, whose mission is “to foster improved literacy and a love of reading by providing free books to children in need.”
Nearly two-thirds of low-income families don’t own a single children’s book – and the Cleveland Kids Book Bank aims to change that by donating books to families and educators across the region. Since its inception in 2016, the nonprofit has distributed more than 1 million children’s books to schools, pediatricians’ offices, childcare centers, after-school programs, Little Free Libraries, and more.
Get involved: Sign up for a volunteer shift to sort book donations at the organization’s headquarters on the West Side. After a quick tutorial, you’ll spend two hours sorting books into age ranges and categories (think holiday-themed books, bilingual books, etc.) – and you’re sure to experience a bout of nostalgia when you come across one of your own favorite childhood reads!
Or try this: If you’ve got books to spare, give them new life – and help local kids learn to love reading – by dropping them off in the donation receptacle in front of the Cleveland Kids Book Bank, located at 3635 Perkins Ave.
Study after study continues to show that having books in the home is a primary indicator of a child’s likelihood of future academic success. In other words, literacy is life-changing – and increasing literacy levels in Northeast Ohio has the potential to change our entire region for the better.