By Ian Ferguson
After more than a year of working to organize an adult literacy program for Blaine, volunteers are offering free, one-on-one tutoring services to adults who wish to improve their reading and writing.
Tutors in the Adult Literacy Program (ALP) are trained to teach basic reading and writing skills and GED test preparation. Another program, English Language Learner (ELL), offers tutoring for adults learning English reading, writing, listening and speaking skills as well as GED preparation.
Tutoring is customized and confidential. Learners meet with their volunteer tutor two times per week at a public location and at a time that fits the learner’s schedule. Anyone interested in becoming a learner can contact ALP coordinator Dan Ruiz at 360/752-8681.
The push to bring an adult literacy program to Blaine was spearheaded by members of the Blaine United Church of Christ (UCC), who were inspired by a nationwide initiative from the UCC to encourage literacy as a justice issue. In 2014, local church members invited Katherine Freimund, executive director of the Whatcom Literacy Council (WLC), to speak to members of the congregation about the need for literacy tutors in the Blaine and Birch Bay community.
Most Whatcom County tutors are centered in Bellingham, and there is demand for tutors in the rest of the county. According to the WLC, one in six Whatcom County residents are functionally illiterate.
“We are trying to reach out to the functionally illiterate as well as people who didn’t learn English as their first language,” said Carol Choulochas, a tutor and volunteer who helped organize the program. “For non-English speakers, tutoring can help them become more involved in the local community.”
Choulochas, representing Blaine UCC, worked with Summer Ostlund, ELL coordinator at the Whatcom Literacy Council and Debby Farmer, manager of the Blaine branch of Whatcom County Library System, to arrange a training session for tutors at the Blaine library. Choulochas recruited participants from the church and Farmer reached out to the community at large by placing a notice in The Northern Light. Ten local people attended the training session in August to become volunteer literacy tutors.
Choulochas said the tutors are excited and ready to begin teaching, and are looking for learners in the local community.
“It’s an important issue on so many levels,” Choulochas said. “People who learn to read have a better chance of living a productive life. It can make it possible to find a job or get a better job. For older people, reading and writing can enrich your life and allow you to get by more easily.”
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, those who earn a high school diploma or GED earn an average of $10,000 more per year than those who don’t.