Thirty million people in the U.S. can’t fill out a job application, read a newspaper or understand a restaurant menu. The United Church of Christ hopes to lower this statistic with the help of CHHSM ministries through a new effort, “Reading Changes Lives.”
“The inability to read is a silent but serious issue that impacts almost every aspect of the church and our society,” says Darlene Collins, UCC’s national literacy coordinator. “We want this initiative to open doors and opportunities, educate and engage people of faith and inspire each of us to help.”
The campaign will kick off on Sept. 8 with “One Read,” a church-wide reading of “Hot Dogs and Hamburgers: Unlocking Life’s Potential by Inspiring Literacy at Any Age,” by Rob Shindler. Organizations will also celebrate literacy on March 4, 2015, with hands-on opportunities to join a team and actively participate in the fight for literacy.
Poor reading skills trap individuals and communities in a vicious cycle, Collins says. “From infancy to adulthood, low literacy skills put families at a disadvantage,” she says.
Literacy impacts other issues, including racial inequality, poverty and criminal justice. According to Collins, 60 percent of adults in the U.S. prison system are considered functionally illiterate and cannot read above a fifth grade level.
Literacy is not just an individual concern. “This disparity affects us all,” she says. “When you help someone else, you also benefit.”
The UCC encourages ministries to get involved. The Reading Changes Lives website (www.readingchangeslives.org) includes literacy statistics, information on upcoming events and an email list where organizations can sign up for updates. Members can collect books, tutor children after school or make a donation to the UCC for literacy efforts, Collins says.
Many CHHSM ministries already advocate for youth and education, including Crossroad Child and Family Services, a nonprofit treatment center for emotionally troubled children in Fort Wayne, Ind. Kyle Zanker, chief development officer, says literacy and education go hand-in-hand for at-risk children.
“Education and literacy are key factors in a child’s success, especially for those at risk,” Zanker says. “Much of success relies on them being able to use language to read and communicate.”
According to a 2013 study by the U.S. Department of Education, 14 percent of adults in the U.S. are illiterate, and 21 percent of the population cannot read above a 5th grade level.
“These statistics are unacceptable,” Collins says. “But it’s something we can change together. It’s never too late.”