Northwest NEWS

August 27, 2001

Local News

The three 'R's' now at Hopelink

by Bronwyn Wilson
   Senior staff reporter
   It isn't easy for the group meeting at the Woodinville Library to respond to the question, "Tell me something you did last week?" Some get out a few words, others a sentence or two. But no one speaks English fluently.
   Now living in the Pacific Northwest, group members come from all over the world. They are from Mexico, Russia, Columbia, Korea, Taiwan and Quebec, Canada.
   They go to the library each week to practice speaking and reading English.
   "They are there because they want to learn," said Linda Brady, their ESL (English as a Second Language) tutor. "They are so eager for whatever you try to teach them. They are just a joy to be with because they try so hard." Brady teaches verb tenses, adjectives, past tenses and sentence structure. "For the most part, my students have been a little past the very beginning ... a little more advanced," said Brady.
   Karen Fallstrom, however, tutors only one student. He's a man in his 20s whose native language is English. He didn't finish high school due to some difficulties with a learning disability.
   "He realized he needed reading skills to get on in the world," said Fallstrom. "We do some things with reading comprehension. We work on some basic writing skills." She said that she also helps him improve his math skills and that he's making great progress.
   Both tutors, Brady and Fallstrom, are volunteers for Eastside Literacy, an agency with the aim of equipping adults with basic literacy skills through individual or group tutoring and GED preparation. There are an estimated 43,000 adults living on the Eastside who are functionally illiterate. These adults are unable to read beyond the fourth grade reading level.
   According to Alice Ferrier, Eastside Literacy Director, 80 percent of the adults who come to the agency are immigrants wanting to read and speak English.
   Twenty percent, though, have English as their native language. Many of these adults have learning disabilities, diagnosed and undiagnosed.
   Ferrier said that adults who have low literacy skills with English as their native language generally try to hide the problem.
   "It takes a huge act of courage as an adult to come forward and say, 'I can't read. Will you help?'" said Ferrier. She said their struggle isn't the same as those learning English as a second language. They gladly ask for assistance. "But to ask for help in your own native language is a different matter," she said, explaining that many hide their problem from their bosses, even their spouses.
   Hopelink another agency on the Eastside has clients who would benefit from Eastside Literacy services. Hopelink assists the homeless and low-income families with the resources they need to get back on their feet, such as food, housing, transportation, clothing, or childcare. Since both agencies play a big part in helping families become self-sufficient, the two organizations recognized a great opportunity.
   On July 1 Eastside Literacy merged with Hopelink.
   "The merger is really a neat thing for both organizations," said Ferrier.
   Eastside Literacy had grown to 400 volunteers prior to the merger.
   Hopelink's Executive Director Doreen Marchione explained, "[Eastside Literacy] didn't have an infrastructure to run an agency that large and they approached us to become part of the agency." She added, "We both feel that there's a number of our clients who need Eastside Literacy. And, we think it's a really good fit between the two agencies."
   For Hopelink, Eastside Literacy is another door of support available to their clients. But for the volunteers and their students, it's much more than support.
   "It becomes a very bonded experience," said Ferrier and pointed out that many students come to the agency with scars from the past.
   "Most students have had bad experiences in the classroom," she said, relating that students have expressed good experiences at Eastside Literacy. "Students tell me, it's a very warm and welcoming place here."
   Brady summed up the reward of tutoring her weekly library group; "There's satisfaction when they finally understand."
   Eastside Literacy started in 1969 when Claire Willard, a Kirkland minister's wife, began teaching reading to prisoners at the penitentiary in Monroe.
   For those who want to know more about becoming a tutor, volunteer orientations are coming up Sept. 5 at 1805-136th Pl. N.E. in Bellevue, (425) 643-1912.
   In Duvall, an orientation is set for Sept. 18 at the Duvall Learning Center, (425) 844-2459. Also, visit www.eastsideliteracy.org.