Twenty-six people showed up Saturday and were trained to become volunteers for READPolk at a workshop held there. That adds to the 130 volunteers trained to teach those with low literacy skills in Polk County.
However, getting the word out to those who need the help and are willing to get help is a high priority of the organization, said Steve Chapman, the executive director of READPolk, a nonprofit coalition dedicated to improving adult literacy.
“The biggest challenge is finding adults to admit they need our help,” he said.
Trying to help that situation is high on Chapman’s list. Being a one-person operation and having a bunch of volunteers can only go so far, he said. Chapman said he goes to open houses and orientations to make READPolk something people know about. He’s had an idea of getting into business offices and seeing if the tutors can help employers there.
“If they can identify five employees who need our help is what we want to do,” he said. “For example Pallet I I’ve spoken with for example and we have to see how we can structure this.”
Currently there are about 100 adult learners who take part with READPolk and Chapman knows there are more. By his estimation the numbers he has from the Florida Literacy Coalition from 2009 it says in Polk County now there are probably about 100,000 adults who have low literacy skills. He added that according to the Polk County School District 74 percent of the kindergarten through fourth-grade students are reading below level. Admitting they have a problem is part of the fight.
“I can say I stink at math, but I may not tell you I can’t read,” he said.
He said another problem he runs into is having people stick around long enough. Generally speaking he wants people to commit a year to learning.
“Maybe some stay with us a month or two and then life happens,” he said. “Maybe they come back down the roll. Once we get them enrolled and get their commitment we have to find out what the need is.”
In most places, the commitment is about an hour to 90 minutes a week. One that is different is in Lake Wales where it has classes from 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday and Thursday.
Currently READPolk is working with four councils. That includes READLakeland, which covers Lakeland, Bartow and Mulberry, The Fort Meade Literacy Council, the Lake Wales Literacy Council and the Northeast Polk Literacy Council. He is looking to expand his coverage to other areas.
One way to spread the word and raise money for the organization is the READPolk Adult Corporate Spelling Bee. Scheduled on Sept. 18 at the Hilton Garden Inn at the entrance of the Linder Regional Airport, it will feature live jazz with Matthew Wengerd DUO and a silent auction.
In the event which starts at 6 p.m., businesses who reserve a table of eight name one speller for the spelling bee. Last year’s winner, Jennifer McCormick with Publix Supermarkets, will give up the traveling trophy. Sponsorship levels range from $500 to $3,000 for the event that is sponsored by Magnify Credit Union.
This year there is a Team Trivia contest scheduled. In it each table will be given three questions before the spelling bee and one question at the beginning of each round. The teams will be playing for prizes.
On the tutoring chances, Chapman said the day-long workshop like the one Saturday is the only place they can take volunteers. He said he tries to do one four times a year. This past one was sponsored by the Give Well Community Foundation which through its grant READPolk was able to purchase the materials it needed.
Those who are interested in volunteering to be a tutor, enter as an adult learner or find out more about the fundraising spelling bee can call the READPolk office at 863-797-6253, or email email@example.com. Donations can also be sent to READPolk, P.O. Box 2595, Bartow, FL 33831.