County people hope to fight illiteracy

By Tony Parra

The Portales councilors proclaimed Thursday as ‘Literacy Day’ for Portales and it brought awareness to one of the issues facing Roosevelt County residents.
Currently, 25 percent of people in Roosevelt County are illiterate, according to statistics from the Roosevelt Literacy Council.
Roosevelt County has 21 percent of the adults reading at Level 1, an extremely low literacy level, according to the New Mexico Coalition for Literacy Web site. Almost all adults in Level 1 can read a little but not well enough to fill out an application, read a food label or read a simple story to a child, according to the National Institute for Literacy Web site.
Sue Alexander, executive director of the Roosevelt County Literacy Council and Linda Rippee, president of the board of the RCLC are two of the people who have set out to help reduce the illiteracy rate in Roosevelt County. There are other factors from the community which affect the literacy rate.
“There is a direct link between the poverty level and illiteracy,” said Denise Burnett, Portales Library Director and member of the Roosevelt County Literacy Council. “That’s what makes No Child Left Behind so hard. Kids come from different backgrounds and different households which don’t have access to books and computers.”
Burnett said one way of curbing illiteracy is to be able to reach readers at an early age. She said it makes reading to children at an early age that much more important.
“Kids whose parents read to them at an early age have a wide range of vocabulary,” Burnett said. “They have a better understanding of the language.”
Burnett and Frankie King believe a strong literate community is the foundation to a successful community when it comes to jobs and organizations. King, a member of the Altrusa Club, said the Roosevelt Literacy council began as an international project by the Altrusa members in the late 80s and early 90s.
“We (Altrusa Club members) envisioned it (literacy council) being what it is today,” King said. “We wanted to get it started and for it to be self-sufficient. We still support it, however, Sue (Alexander) does a great job with and in getting grants for it. We are thrilled to see it become what it is today with wonderful people helping others.”
There are 23 volunteer tutors and two part-time paid staff members working under the direction of Alexander. There were 4,229 cumulative hours put in by the staff.
The Roosevelt Literacy Council tutors out of the Portales Public Library.
“It’s a perfect arrangement,” Burnett said of the council being located at the library. “There are people who come in and unable to read and we can refer them to the literacy council. They also see people tutoring at the library.”
The average of adults who are a Level 1 proficiency for the state of New Mexico is 20 percent. In comparison, Curry County is at 19 percent and Chavez County is at 24 percent. Los Alamos County has the lowest percentage of Level 1 readers with 5 percent, while Luna County has the highest percentage of Level 1 readers with 35 percent in New Mexico.
The United Way Foundation provides funding to the RCLC, according to United Way President Rusty Galloway. United Way officials are in the processing of raising money for 12 organizations, including the RCLC.