READ/Orange County is the literacy service of the Orange County Public Library. They provide no-cost tutoring in basic reading, writing, and English skills using professionally trained volunteer tutors. The volunteers assist learners in improving their literacy skills. Lessons are individualized, confidential, and highly goal oriented. The learning process is structured around the learner’s goals, using materials that relate to those goals.
READ boasts of several achievements since its inception. Many of the learners in the program have voted for the first time, obtained a new job, received a promotion, or have finally been able to read to their children. The learners have also assisted their children with homework, enrolled in a higher level of education, obtained a driver’s license, written their own checks, and balanced their own checkbooks.
Since its founding, in 1991, 50 Basic Tutor Training Workshops have been conducted. There have been more than 800 tutors certified and 1500 learners assessed. Volunteers have contributed more than 80,000 hours of tutoring plus and additional 82,000 hours in talent and support services. Nationwide estimated indicate that one in five adults is functionally illiterate. This equates to approximately 500,000 people in Orange County. Since illiteracy costs businesses in the United States about $245 billion per year, READ’s programs address an imperative unmet educational need.
READ is innovative because of the variety of programs offered. Because tutoring is offered at convenient locations and times, obstacles to learning are reduced. The emphasis on literacy as a family issue assures a long-term impact for the community. READ is the only low-level basic skills program currently being offered to jail inmates. The county librarian firmly supports READ and includes funding for the program in the annual budget. The 28 branches of the Orange County Public Library are knowledgeable about READ, display READ information, and provide tutoring space.
READ’s core program works with adults who have limited literacy skills. By increasing literacy skills, learners become more employable, more informed community members and voters, and more capable of assisting their children in gaining literacy skills. READ’s Family for Literacy (FFL) component addresses the intergenerational cycle of illiteracy. Children whose parents are functionally illiterate are twice as likely as their peers to be functionally illiterate, creating an on-going cycle. FFL works to break this cycle by working in combination with parents and their children. FFL assists parents in improving their reading skills and instills a sense of the value of reading. Direct work with the children builds reading readiness and assures they have the pre-literacy skills for success in school.
READ, in conjunction with the Sheriff-Coroner Department, provides tutors to inmates in the five Orange County jails via the Working for Inmate Literacy Now program. This program demonstrates the practical benefits of improving literacy skills and encourages continuance of the inmate’s education upon transfer or release from jail, thus reducing recidivism while increasing employability and safety.