Literacy Programs Help Adults Improve Reading, Writing Skills

May 23, 2017

Dorise Adams and Mary Anne Carr look over their reading materials during class on Monday. The two are improving their literacy skills at Reading Connections, a non profit that helps adults enhance their reading, writing and math skills.
Credit Naomi Prioleau / WUNC

Every Monday and Wednesday for the past year, Dorise Adams and Mary Anne Carr have met in a classroom at United Methodist Church to achieve their singular goal: to receive their high school diplomas.

To achieve that goal, the two decided to take courses to improve their reading skills with Reading Connections.

Reading Connections is a nonprofit organization that helps adults over the age of 18 enhance their reading, writing and math skills.
 
Carr and Adams have formed a sisterhood.
 
“We're pulling each other and we're going to keep pulling each other,” Carr said. “We don't dot every I or cross every T, but we're striving to be the best that we can be.”
 
Adams and Carr are both in their late 50s. Neither of them could read well and decided if they wanted to truly succeed in life, they needed to be better at reading.
 

We're pulling each other and we're going to keep pulling each other. We don't dot every 'I' or cross every 'T,' but we're striving to be the best that we can be. - Mary Anne Carr

The two friends are both ministers at their church. Carr described her reading journey as a “start, stop” situation.
 
She experienced domestic violence and sexual abuse most of her life and then Carr dropped out of high school her senior year.
 
She tried Reading Connections once, and then stopped going. Then she tried courses at Guilford Technical Community College but quit out of frustration with her younger classmates.
 
She remembered yelling at them one day in class.

Dorise Adams (left) and Mary Anne Carr (right) said they've formed a sisterhood on their journey to improve their reading skills and earn their high school diplomas.
Credit Naomi Prioleau / WUNC

"‘It’s easy for ya’ll to get it. You don’t understand,’” she said to them. “‘I come from where I just want to get it and ya’ll get it here and ya’ll playing with it and ya’ll toying with it’ and I just stopped.”
 

The Numbers in Reading

About 20 percent of people over the age of 18 in North Carolina struggle with reading, that’s a number that’s roughly on-par with the rest of the country.
 
In Guilford County, about 48,000 adults can’t read. Reading Connections serves about 1,000 of them.
 
For Dorise Adams, she says when she was in school, her teachers went through the motions in teaching her and because of that her reading skills suffered.
 
“People don't take time with you no more,” she said. They don't and if you don't get it, oh well you're lost and I went for a long time with that and it hurt so much because people bash you down because I can't help who I am.”
 
Adams eventually dropped out of high school in the eleventh grade to help take care of her family.
 
Not being able to read well makes it almost impossible to get a good job. Carr worked at gas stations, nursing homes and retirement homes for only a short amount of time. Adams has spent her life working in the cleaning industry for motels, houses and now the Greensboro Coliseum.
 
If reading is a struggle, it’ll be even harder to get ahead according to Reading Connections Associate Director Jean Pudlo.
 
“Our definition of what functional reading literacy is keeps changing over time,” she said. “So, in the 50's you could get a job even if you had a fourth or fifth grade reading level and you could support family well. But today, that's very different and that functional literacy level keeps going up.”
 
The Levels of Reading
 
Adult literacy is broken down into five levels. Levels one and two are limited proficiency. This means a person can't read more than a few words or fill out a job application.
 
Level three is the minimum required proficiency for someone to succeed in today's labor market.
 
Carr and Adams are at level two but they are trying to work their way up.
 
Although their ultimate goal is to get their high school diplomas, Carr and Adams both have individual goals they want to achieve.
 
Adams wants to be able to read in front of her church. Carr wants to own her own house and read to her grandchildren.
 
For Adams, having a friend to struggle with on the journey has made the difference.
 
“I came a long way, but my goal is, I want to walk across that stage,” she said. “God has opened that door and the people around, they show me so much love here.”
 
Carr has some words of advice to others in her situation.

“Don't let your reading be a handicap,” she said. “Just keep pushing, striving to who you can be, because you can come up, just like we did.