The Lake Lure Community Education Foundation (LLCEF) in partnership with the Rutherford Library System has founded Literacy Is For Everyone (L.I.F.E.) in Rutherford County. With the creation of L.I.F.E., Rutherford County joins the 37 other counties across the State of North Carolina that have literacy councils.

The idea for this project started when LLCEF president, April Young, of Rutherfordton, was the library manager of the Mountains Branch Library back in 2011. “I just kept getting so frustrated,” Young explains, “adult non-readers would come to me for direction on where to get help, and I had nowhere to send them. I used to be able to send people to Buncombe or Henderson literacy councils, but those resources had stopped taking students from outside their counties.” Young, who is now Director of the Rutherford County Library System brought her idea just over a year ago to the LLCEF in her role as that board’s incoming president. New board member, and Lake Lure resident Esther Lusk was excited by the idea.

Lusk contacted the Literacy Council of Buncombe County for ideas on how to proceed. Ashley Lasher, Executive Director of the Buncombe Lit Council, was very responsive. “I am so pleased that you reached out about this topic, as we have lamented the lack of adult literacy resources in WNC for a long time. I am especially happy to see a ‘neighbor’ interested in working on this issue,” encouraged Lasher. In May, at the suggestion of Lasher, Esther Lusk attended the North Carolina Literacy Association Statewide Conference. “It was almost overwhelming,” remarks Lusk, “but attendees from other counties were very helpful and eager to be resources for our effort as we moved forward with our Rutherford County Literacy Council initiative.”

Back at home Lusk and Young met with a representative from the Adult Education Department at Isothermal Community College (ICC). They learned that while ICC does provide some specific adult literacy education, there was still a large portion of the community that they were not able to serve.  Unfortunately when an adult learner comes into ICC and cannot pass the incoming student test, ICC cannot accept the student into the adult learning programming.  ICC ran into the same problem April had at the library—there was nowhere within the county to refer adult learners below a specific reading level.  More determined than ever, Young and Lusk then worked with Buncombe County Adult Education Director Lily Contorer to create a plan to train and supply 10 initial volunteer tutors in Rutherford County. The pair presented a proposal to the LLCEF in early August to fund the beginning training and supplies for a countywide literacy council in the amount of $2780.

Once the funds were allocated the pair scheduled the 16-hour training program from Buncombe for January 31 and February 7, 2017. The training covered tutoring adult learners and ways to grow a literacy council.  The training was attended by volunteers from ICC, the Rutherford County Library System, LLCEF, and other private citizens that self-elected to participate in the initial literacy training.  Once training was completed, the groups continued to meet to establish a working name and a plan to move forward with the intended initiative.  It is the goal of our literacy group to establish a countywide literacy council with an extensive network of volunteer tutors and maintain connections throughout the county to foster a refer system for adults needing our services.  L.I.F.E looks to partner with non-profits, local businesses and other government agencies for volunteers, students, donations, and tutoring locations.

The cost of low literacy, per the National Institute for Literacy, advises “Adult illiteracy carries an estimated price tag of $225 Billion annually as a result of loss of income and tax revenue, unemployment or underemployment, incarceration, and supplemental training for entry-level jobs.” There is a direct link between low literacy skills and public assistance, which includes children living in poverty, and the increasing prison populations. Literacy is one of our greatest weapons in the ongoing struggle between a person succeeding or failing. Without literacy, uneducated adults struggle to reach their full potential as individuals, parents, employees and United States citizens.

If you know of anyone interested in becoming a volunteer tutor, or someone who needs help improving their reading, email, or call April Young at the Rutherford County Library, 828-287-6117.