Literacy Coalition offers free literacy program to Huntington residents

By Michelle Embree

Hallie Selig sits in her office located in the building of the Huntington Public Library. (Photo by Michelle Embree)

Because of one Huntington business, an 18-year-old man’s life changed.

“[He] was told he was stupid his whole life, and he came in and took the GED and passed it with flying colors,” Hallie Selig, literacy coordinator of the Huntington County Literacy Coalition, said. “Then I took him to get his driver’s license, and he got a job. It’s like good builds on good.”

The mission statement of the coalition is “to help children and adults in Huntington County acquire the basic skills of reading, writing, speaking and communication at a basic level and to promote public awareness of literacy programs and needs in our area,” according to thehuntingtonproject.org, a website that posts employment opportunities in the town.

The literacy coalition partners with agencies in Huntington, including the school corporation, the adult education program and the Huntington City-Township Public Library. The Literacy Coalition provides tutors to adults and children of all ages. Tutors assist students in earning GEDs, passing school courses and learning to read. All of their services are free to residents of Huntington County.

“A lot of people come in and just breathe a sigh of relief,” Selig said. “A lot of times they’re not in a position to afford it.”

Currently, the coalition has a board of 15 members and 35 active tutors who serve 35 adults and 18 children. They have served 14 more people, and the number of GEDs earned increased from 23 to 78 since 2009.

Selig said she believes the increase in people earning GEDs is directly related to the economic slump of recent years.

“Some of the people who we see haven’t had somebody to support them through anything in life,” Selig said. “I tell them when they get here that if they come in and ask for help they’ve done the hardest part because they are ashamed. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve had sitting in here weeping because of the shame that’s attached to illiteracy.”

Selig said that many times their services provide therapy and can empower the student to break the cycle of poverty.

“The misconception is that illiterate people aren’t smart, but they are very intelligent because they have learned to get through life without being literate,” Selig said.  “Just helping build them back up is a lot of what we do, from the initial moment that I see them and can get my hands on them and speak redemption into their life.”

To raise awareness among illiterate people, the Coalition yearly participates in the Spring Family Festival at Hires Park and the annual Senior Expo. They provide goodie bags and information to Huntington second-graders each fall. Selig said they are considering hosting a reading related fundraiser toward the end of the summer.

“We’re not just providing literacy services, we’re changing lives, and that’s the message we’re trying to get out into the community,” she said.

Volunteers from the HU social work department and Evangelical United Methodist Church have assisted in these awareness raising events.

Ed Robbins, Huntington resident and tutor for the coalition, considers his time spent volunteering a privilege — a privilege because he is allowed to do it and because he is able.

Robbins started his time tutoring in the Fort Wayne school district and started at the literacy coalition upon retirement. Total he has tutored for at least 30 years.  In this time he has discovered the importance of chemistry in a tutor-student relationship, the struggles of doubting his abilities and the joy of seeing students succeed.

“All of us have strengths and weaknesses and things that we can share with others,” Robbins said.

Robbins’ favorite subject to tutor is math, particularly upper level mathematics, he said. He said the coalition is in need of more tutors for math at all levels.

Volunteers of any kind are causes for celebration, Selig said. She said they “jump up and down and do a dance” when people express interest in volunteering.

Robbins expressed the joy he gets out of his time spent tutoring.

“I like learning myself and so I’d run into people that are struggling with something,” Robbins said. “I like helping them find their way.”

Selig said she found a job she loves and is passionate about the program.

“It wasn’t until I got the job that I realized that I was looking for a position that really meant something; that really made a difference in peoples’ lives, and I feel like that’s what we do here with literacy,” she said. “We’re not just teaching somebody to read, we’re not just getting someone a GED, but you’re really stepping in and changing peoples’ lives when you’re doing this.”

The Huntington County Literacy Coalition is located in the Huntington City-Township Public Library at 255 West Park Drive.  It is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and can be reached at 260-356-0824. Their email address is literacy@huntingtonpub.lib.in.us.

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