Every journey must begin with a single step, and thus Scarlotte Deupree’s journey with literacy began in 1997 when she began to notice an increasing need for literacy work in her rural hometown of Sylacauga, Alabama. In 1997, Deupree read an article in The Birmingham News advertising a literacy program in Birmingham. She signed up for the program and, after a 16-hour training course, became a certified Laubach Literacy Tutor. The high school senior carried her new skills and literacy training back to Sylacauga to combat the problem of illiteracy.
After becoming a trained tutor, Deupree became affiliated with an adult learning program that was already in effect in Sylacauga. This program lacked volunteers, so she coordinated with Central Alabama Community College, the governing body of the program, to revive the Sylacauga Adult Literacy Council. In October 1997, Deupree distributed letters about the new program to past volunteer tutors in Sylacauga and advertised the program heavily through church bulletins, local newspapers, and civic organizations. At this time, Deupree was also tutoring a 52-year-old illiterate woman for one hour, once a week.
In a short time, the Sylacauga Adult Literacy Council began to take form. Deupree assembled a Board of Directors comprised of educators, civic leaders, and literacy volunteers. In February of 1998, the first tutor training session was held and 25 tutors were trained. A kick-off luncheon was held to introduce the tutors and students to each other and to the Sylacauga community.
In the fall of 1998, Deupree began her college career and became involved with the Literacy Council of Central Alabama as a regular office volunteer. With this organization, she became an instructor for ALERT, a program that teaches medical practices how to recognize illiteracy, participated in the Crazy in Alabama movie premiere, and helped organize and conduct a statewide literacy telethon that placed illiterate Alabama citizens in literacy programs.
Deupree also volunteered with the Learn to Read Program in Athens, Alabama. The Learn to Read Program needed additional community support, so she devised the idea of conducting a Literacy Awareness Weekend in Athens. During the weekend of May 14-16, Deupree distributed literacy literature throughout Athens, organized a group of students to read to nursing home patients, and coordinated with area churches to raise literacy awareness in their Sunday services. A proclamation from the city of Athens designated May 16th as “Literacy Sunday.”
In the fall of 1999, Deupree took on a new literacy student, an eight-year-old second grader. The pair meets twice a week for tutoring. In her spare time, Scarlotte Deupree volunteers with more than 27 organizations in her community. However, with more than 900,000 citizens in Alabama who cannot function beyond a fifth grade level of comprehension, her journey to fight illiteracy in Alabama continues. Although the problem of illiteracy may seem overwhelming at times, Deupree believes that with more awareness and involvement from Alabama citizens, Alabama illiteracy rate will begin to change “one step at a time.”