LIFT: 50 Years Teaching Adults To Read
DALLAS, TX – Nearly half of the adult population in the DFW Metroplex cannot read a newspaper. That’s according to LIFT, Literacy Instruction for Texas. For 50 years, LIFT has been teaching adults to read. Until last year, 47 year old Ronnie Porter of Oak Cliff could not read. For years he had hidden that fact from friends and co-workers.
Ronnie Porter has worked primarily as a roofer and plumber. He says he would take job applications home and his sister would fill them out. He was getting by. It was his daughter who made him realize that was not good enough.
Porter: My daughter, she was about nine or ten, and she asked me, Daddy read this book for me. Her mother was standing there. And I was stunned. And I had to come up with something. I said well baby, Daddy doesn’t have his glasses. That really started me having to do something because my child asked me to read a book to her and I couldn’t.
A little more than a year ago, Porter took a big step and enrolled in adult literacy classes at LIFT.
«Here at LIFT most of our adult learners cannot read at all. They are reading below the first grade.»
That’s Lisa Hembry, director of the Dallas-based LIFT. It is a non-profit organization started in 1961 by the Dallas Chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women. Hembry says that year, there were several hundred students. Last year that number was more than eight thousand. LIFT is supported by a wide variety of foundations, corporations, and a cadre of volunteer teachers.
Hembry says learning to read as an adult takes a lot of hard work: two-hour classes twice a week for at least 18 to 20 months.
Hembry: This is not an overnight process. It takes a lot of commitment. And generally speaking, it takes years of every week coming here and doing their homework. And there are a lot of people out there, believe it or not. Either they have dyslexia that was undiagnosed of they fell through the cracks. And we’re here to lift them up.
May Ayers was one of those who fell through the cracks. She dropped out of Pinkston High School in the 10th grade. She says she was able to read «some» words. But she couldn’t read to her three children, or help them with their homework. Now, at LIFT, she says she learned her abc’s and phonetic sounds, is able to break down «big words» into syllables. She’s studying vocabulary, punctuation, parts of speech. And she loves it.
Ayers: Every afternoon we leave class they all say thank you for coming. No thank you because you have put a light in my life where I can learn where I can know how to read and I don’t have to hold my head down in shame. Or going’ to church and don’t know how to read. I’m able to read a story and get what the story’s trying to tell me. It’s just like lifting me up, carrying me on my wings. I’m not all the way on there yet, but I’m getting there.
Statewide, 19% of the population cannot read. It’s even higher in Dallas County, 21% — according to the Texas Center for the Advancement of Literacy and Learning.
One estimate shows the number of American adults who can’t read is growing by approximately two million each year. LIFT officials say much of that can be attributed to large numbers of Hispanic immigrants – seeking to learn English and how to read. More than half of Dallas LIFT students are Hispanic.
Nationwide, three quarters of all adult literacy programs have student waiting lists. But, Ronnie Porter and May Ayers say they were lucky. They got into classes right away after they applied to LIFT. And Porter has this advice:
Porter: Don’t be ashamed. Just do something about it. Go and learn how to read and write.
He says once you learn to read, the sky’s the limit on what you can do.
LIFT classes are 15 dollars per session, and there are scholarships available for those who need financial help.