Imagine going to the grocery store and not being able to read the product labels, or being given a note from your child’s school and not knowing what it says. For too many adults in Warren County, those situations are a reality.
For more than 35 years, though, the Adult New Readers program has been working to improve local adults’ reading skills, and the five public library systems in Warren County have made it happen.
“In 1987, the five libraries got together and talked to the staff at the Cincinnati Public Library, where a similar program was being done,” said Mason Public Library Director Sarah Brown. “We wanted to offer this in our county, and all five Boards of Trustees were happy with the possibilities — and we grew from there.”
Since then, more than 2,000 adults in Warren County have learned to read with the help of Adult New Readers volunteers.
In 2018, the administration of the program was taken on by Warren County Community Services (WCCS). During the pandemic, volunteers continued to meet with students either through zoom or in outdoor settings.
Adult New Readers finds and trains volunteers and matches them with adult students to be tutored. The tutor and student meet in coffee shops, libraries, parks and other public places for lessons. The commitment typically lasts a year or more, which can lead to bonds between the student and the tutor.
“A student in her 60s has been with a volunteer for more than 3 years,” said WCCS program manager Sara Pinto. “At some point, the tutoring turned into a friendship.”
Pinto said that, over the years, the clientele has changed.
“In the early days, the volunteers worked almost exclusively with adults who are functionally illiterate. With the change in communities, especially in the Mason area, we now work with more and more people for whom English is a second language.”
Regardless of their background or knowledge, Sarah Brown said that new students often take some time to connect with the program.
“It takes a lot of courage for an adult learner to come forward,” she said. “I recall a young man who came in to the Mason library frequently, wandering around and looking through magazines. One day I stopped to chat with him, and he told me he couldn’t read. It took him getting to the point where he was comfortable with us to be able to take the next step.”
The program is funded through allocations from each of the five Warren County libraries along with grants.
“If it wasn’t for the help of the libraries, I don’t know how this program could continue,” Pinto said.
This year, Mason gave additional funds to help the program grow. Pinto said the funds will provide support to so she can increase outreach in the community, spreading the word and adding to the current list of 75 volunteers so Adult New Readers can serve even more students.
Having the capability to increase the number of students is important, said Brown, especially since the 2020 expansion of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library of Ohio, a state program which sends books monthly to participating families with children under five years old. She said Mason Library’s additional support helps to ensure that parents and caregivers in Imagination Library households are able to read to their children.
“The Mason Library Board is very committed to the Adult New Readers program,” she said. “I’ve encouraged them, and there was never any hesitation (to become more involved).”
The Adult New Readers program also helps students in other ways as they learn to read, such as assistance with filling out forms and learning conversational English through a new class being offered in Mason.
“Literacy is all about the basics in life,” said Brown. “Activities like going to the doctor, the grocery store, even getting a driver’s license are more difficult or impossible without knowing how to read.”
For more information about becoming an Adult New Readers volunteer, or to refer a potential student to the program, contact Sara Pinto at (513) 567-3774, email email@example.com, or visit wccsi.org/sitepages/PGM_ADULT-NEW-READER.html.