It's hard to believe that in this day of high-tech information sharing there are still many adults in nearly every community who either can't read or can't read at a very high level.
The truth is that illiteracy in any shape or form hurts everyone in the long run. If a community lacks the necessary numbers of adults who can comprehend what they read, businesses and manufacturers tend to look (and locate) elsewhere for qualified employees.
And an adult who can't read can make quite an impression on children, who may not think literacy is that important, extending a cycle that can become almost impossible to break.
Studies also indicate that illiteracy leads to an increased crime rate and is almost an iron-clad guarantee to a life of poverty. The 2001 Census reported that one in four American adults don't have high school diplomas, and that's a conservative estimate.
In Newton County, the news could be better. Nearly 25 percent of those 16 and older are unable to read a map, a newspaper or even calculate the cost of their purchases, and 25.3 percent of adults in Newton County (higher than the state average of 21.4 percent) haven't completed high school.
Fortunately, the Newton READS program, which was established in 2000 to tackle the community's illiteracy rate, is making great strides in helping adults achieve what many of us take for granted. A local chapter of the Georgia Certified Literate Community Program, Newton READS is working overtime to help those who want to help themselves.
There have been many success stories associated with Newton READS, which helped change the lives of nearly 1,000 adults in 2005. One such story belongs to a middle-aged Newton County resident named Walter Brown, who has taken full advantage of the programs offered by Newton READS and could one day achieve his dream of attending college.
"When I met Walter, he was reading at about a fourth-grade level," said volunteer adult literacy tutor Danielle Ayan, who works as a research scientist for geographic information systems at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
"In the year we've worked together, he's come a long way. We've found that not all students come to the table with the same level of knowledge and that reading and comprehension don't always go hand in hand. Walter often focused so much on pronunciation that he didn't always understand what it was he was reading."
Brown worked as a truck driver before retiring and, although he spent his adult life crisscrossing the country, he couldn't even read a map, said Ayan.
"A lot of people come to Newton READS because they have a goal," she said. "They want to get their GED or their driver's license. But Walter came to us because he wanted to. He wanted to make learning his future. Walter was a truck driver, but now he's really behind the wheel because he's taking charge of his life like he never has before."
Ayan added that Brown is taking full advantage of the resources Newton READS offers and is working with math tutor Joe Polinsky to improve his math skills. There are still plenty of hurdles Brown will have to clear, but at this point in his life, he's well beyond his biggest impediment.
"He's basically overcome himself," said Ayan.
In today's Citizen editions, Ayan shares her thoughts about the Newton READS program and Brown, in his own words, tells the inspiring story of how he courageously decided to make perhaps the most important step of his adult life.
For more information on Newton READS, call Janet Hodges at 678-342-7943 or visit www.newtonreads.org.