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Literacy Volunteers Combat An Awesome Problem With BC-Literacy-Crisis

February 21, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ Two nights a week, Demetrius Mosley leaves his job at a toy-store warehouse for a midtown Manhattan skyscraper, where volunteers help him read newspaper ads and write simple sentences in a frayed notebook. Three months ago, he could barely write his name.

″It takes a lot for a person to say, ’I need help,‴ said Mosley, 26, who is enrolled in a class run by Literacy Volunteers of New York City Inc. ″A lot of people are scared to admit it.″

At 6:30 p.m., the Gulf & Western building’s 40th-floor cafeteria becomes a school where Mosley and about 70 other adults, many of them poor and unable to read beyond the second-grade level, receive tutoring in the literacy demands of everyday life, ranging from paying the rent to getting a driver’s license.

Some seek help to read dime-store novelettes. Others want to study the Bible or even opera librettos, Literacy Volunteer officials said.

But for many, the training is vital to their ability to work and earn a paycheck.

The students are taught by professionals including advertising executives, accountants and teachers, some from Manhattan’s swank private schools. All are recruited by the Literacy Volunteers, which holds classes in 10 sites citywide.

″When adults don’t know how to read and write, they don’t have much faith in themselves,″ said Eli Zal, executive director of the Literacy Volunteers. He said the group gets a large part of its budget from corporate donors.

Because of television publicity and a growing awareness of the nation’s illiteracy problem, the Literacy Volunteers office has been inundated not only with applications from prospective students, but tutors as well. There is a 10-month waiting list for student spaces and for the first time, a waiting list for tutors, who receive a special training course before teaching a class.

″These people really want to learn. That’s what is exciting to me,″ said Ann Heininger, a 30-year-old volunteer tutor who works for Coopers & Lybrand, a large public accounting firm.

She began tutoring about three years ago and it has since become a regular part of her routine, she said. During that time, she has helped students learn to scan help-wanted ads and write notes to creditors about disputed bills. She recalled helping one student read a gambling handbook.

″I try to get my students to help each other,″ she said. ″One of the biggest things is to get their confidence up, and that strategy helps.″

Mosley, one of a half-dozen students taught by Ms. Heininger in her current class, said he decided to seek help partly because of his job at a Toys R Us warehouse, where he needed to recognize the names of games and other toys.

″When I first came to this class, I couldn’t read. Picking up a book was like a disease,″ he said. ″But now, no problem. When you come to realize you can do this, it’s great.″

Nizam Ali, a 28-year-old student in Ms. Heininger’s class, said he sought help after watching a TV ad about illiteracy 10 months ago. Unable to read, Ali only had been able to get errand jobs or other work that didn’t require filling out a job application, he said. Now he is reading simple romantic novels and wants a high-school diploma.

″Since I started here, it’s done a lot for me,″ he said. ″I know how to do things. Write a check, read a sign. The teachers here, they help you a lot. They have a lot of patience.″

Zal estimated nearly 70 percent of Literacy Volunteer students are employed, and most want improved skills to help them at work. Although that is important, Zal said, he is concerned about what he called a preoccupation with work-place literacy that also could be harmful.

″It’s one thing to learn how to read names on a paint-chip chart for your job,″ he said. ″But where does that person go to learn to read a bedtime story to his children? If work-place literacy is where it stops, it is rather frightening.″

End Adv Sunday Feb 21

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