Reading is Fundamental

By JoAnn Guidry

Spend two minutes with Barbara Woodson and you know that this is a woman on a mission. Spend five minutes with her and she’ll have you enlisted in the cause.

Woodson, 61, is the founder and volunteer executive director of the Marion County Literacy Council. Incorporated in late 2001, the non-profit was born out of Woodson’s desire to want to teach someone to read.

When she retired to Ocala in 1998 after a career in the federal government, Woodson decided to do something on a volunteer basis toward that goal. She took a reading tutor’s course with the Orlando Adult Literacy League and was inspired to establish a similar program in Marion County.

“Illiteracy is such a huge problem that it’s difficult to even grasp,” says Woodson, who has a B.A. in English from the University of Maryland. “But I believe it is at the core of so many of society’s problems. Being able to read and comprehend what you read is the basis of everything a person does all through life. It’s about practical things like getting a driver’s license and about simple things like being able to read to your child.”

According to U.S. Bureau of Census statistics, the illiteracy problem is staggering. Professional educators use five literacy levels to ascertain an individual’s literacy competency: Level 1 is 0-8 years of schooling, Level 2 is high school or equivalent, Level 3 is minimal college or up to four years, Level 4-5 is graduate and above. The federal statistics show that 48 percent of American and 56 percent of Marion County residents are unable to perform at Level 3.

The MCLC has grown in three years from two volunteers and one class of five students to 75 active volunteers and 62 current students. A perfect example of how illiteracy knows no bounds is that the oldest student is 80 and the youngest is 16.

“For a $35 donation,” says Woodson, “a person joins the Literacy Council and is enrolled in the tutor program. After a tutor goes through the 8-hour training program, each is matched up with a student. It doesn’t cost anything for the student and we personalize each case, depending on the goal.”

The students’ goals can range from acquiring a GED, a driver’s license, or U.S. citizenship to learning to read for work reasons. Or it can be more personal, like being able to read the newspaper or a book.

Woodson is happy to report that Marion County is becoming a part of the Literacy Council in more than just the name now.

“We have received great support from many generous organizations and individuals,” she says, “but we have so much more to accomplish and to do that we need to be able to hire a fulltime paid director — someone who can take the Literacy Council to the next level,” she says. “We are working on grants and funding to make that happen.”

Once the Literacy Council has that fulltime director, Woodson expects to step back — but not out. She’ll still volunteer as a tutor.

“We can’t solve the illiteracy problem with just volunteers,” she says. “But we can’t solve it without them either.”

Want To Do More?

For more information on the Marion County Literacy Council, contact Barbara Woodson at (352) 690-7323.

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