For the functionally illiterate, Salt Lake City's Literacy Action Center is like the first chapter of an extremely good book.
The center, an off-shoot of two national organizations dedicated to literacy, offers the functionally illiterate the opportunity to learn to read under the one-on-one direction of an LAC tutor."Our goal is to help the functionally illiterate reach their goal," said LAC Director June Moss, who has seen over 200 functionally illiterate adults in the Salt Lake area complete the program since its inception in 1984.
The adults who come to the center at 777 S. 13th East arrive with a variety of goals: to obtain their General Equivalency Diploma, to get off unemployment, or, like Eddie Davey, to finally read a story to his daughter.
Currently, LAC serves 101 students from all over Salt Lake City. Most come from the poorer sections of the city, staff member Dory Donner said. Forty-three are from the northwest quadrant, while only nine come from the southeast.
A student's first appointment with LAC is often difficult, said Donner, the group's only paid staff member. Some students have been living with functional illiteracy for decades and are traumatized when they finally come to LAC and "say to someone face to face, `I can't read.' "
But with a staff of 100 volunteer tutors, four volunteer coordinators, and Donner, LAC arranges one-on-one tutorial sessions between students and volunteer instructors that allow students to shrug off awkward feelings.
Convenience is a major factor in coordinating students and teachers. LAC matches tutors with students based on geographical areas, so students have little trouble making appointments usually held at area libraries, Donner said.
The center also attempts to match the personalities of students with tutors who have completed a short course in how to instruct the functionally illiterate.
"Anyone who can read can teach," she said.
The volunteer instructors walk students through one of two manuals. The first manual Donner calls the structured manual that utilizes phonics, or teaches reading by familiarizing students with the sounds of letters.
The second manual Donner said is less structured. Often, students dictate to instructors a story based on their own experiences and then try to read the story back.
"Basically, it teaches the same thing children learn but adjusted for adults," she said. "And when they actually learn to read, "it's like watching someone having the world open up for them."
There are some distinct differences in teaching adults and young children. Adults are nervous and afraid about reading, an area in which they've always failed, Donner said.
Additionally, adults sometimes associate many negative experiences from their past with reading, such as an adult Moss speaks of who suffered a series of bad experiences as a child but later tried to return to school.
"He had so many negative experiences in the school system that it psyched him out to walk up the school steps," she said.
Functionally illiterate adults wrestle with a plethora of emotions because of their inability to read effectively, Moss said. Their self-esteem is often battered by years of trying to hide their inability to read.
"They don't like themselves because they feel they've been deceiving their friends and they think thei're dumb," she said. But their handicap is, in most cases, hardly their fault, Moss said. Many adults became functionally illiterate after a sporadic career in school fraught with interruptions from sickness, family disruptions and other disadvantages.
Despite their inability to read, the functionally illiterate exhibit a different but real intelligence; only a small percentage show any kind of learning disorder, Donner said.
The functionally illiterate develop "survival skills" without the ability to read, learn to memorize huge quantities of information they can't otherwise decipher and develop their own codes in lieu of writing.
"People coping with the life they lead, that takes a very intelligent person," she said.