No. 467



If you can read, write and comprehend, you are among the most blessed people on earth, and this is a personal invitation for you to join us for a nationwide literacy campaign. The state of literacy in America has sunk to such a low level that it is affecting our economy and the quality of life for many of our citizens. One of the reasons this problem has not been addressed on a massive scale is because the majority of our people do not know how bad it really is. ProLiteracy America, the umbrella organization that covers all literacy programs in the country, reports that 90 million Americans have trouble reading or writing and 40 million of these cannot read at the fifth-grade level. In a Community Needs Assessment survey here in our community a few years ago, one of the questions posed was, "Do you think we have a literacy problem in our community?" When households, that is the general public, responded to this question, 26 percent said they thought we had a problem but when community leaders and business owners responded to the same question, 72 percent said we had a problem.

You may ask, why is there such a great disparity in the answers? Community leaders and business owners know we have a real problem because they are the ones who are hiring new employees, watching people as they fill out loan applications and attempt to perform routine transactions. In short, they see it every day in their businesses. Some time ago I personally talked with the owner of a large restaurant in our community and he told me that he had to go through 25 applications just to get one person that he was willing to even interview for a job. Let me back up a minute and say that our county only has about 15 percent of the adult population who are illiterate, but there are other counties in our nation that have over 50 percent illiteracy.

Can you imagine how this would affect the economy and the quality of life in a community like this? The saddest part of all in this story is for the individuals who cannot read. These people suffer from low self-esteem and are not able to take advantage of the great opportunities in this great country. Furthermore, they are a tremendous drain on our criminal justice system and our massive social programs. Medical illiteracy, that is people who have trouble understanding directions on prescription drugs and other health-care issues, cost the United States over $73 billion per year, according to Win Rockefeller, our state's lieutenant governor. When it comes to our prison population, according to OCCS, Policy Initiative, there is a direct link between literacy skill level and youth and adult crime and incarceration."

In addition, 395.3 percent of DOC inmates function at the lowest levels in math skills, and 69.42 percent perform at the lowest levels in reading skills Ü more than triple the rate of the adult population." If you can take what I have been saying at face value, then you will also realize that we have to start doing something about the problem of illiteracy in our nation. This is why I issued you a personal invitation earlier, because working together we can do something about it. Based on past experience, we should also realize that money alone will not solve this problem. While this is a national problem it must be solved at the local level. This is to say that only you and your fellow citizens who live in your city or town can solve this problem. My proposal is to conduct a community wide Literacy Campaign and to enlist every literate person to help, and to ask them to be personally involved in ways that are rewarding and satisfying to them, as they help the illiterate learn to read.

I am joined in this effort by C. Dennis Schick, who just retired as executive director of our state press association after 25 years of service in this position.We are already off to a roaring start as many communities are making plans to get started. The key player, and the most important organization in this effort, will be your local newspaper. You talk about the power of the press Ü they have it. Who else in your community can truly get the word out, publish articles, meeting places, times and dates, help organize and recruit volunteers and celebrate your progress. Please understand; this is not a one shot hit-or-miss approach, but an ongoing effort to marshal your resources, get your leaders and other influential people involved and not just talk about improving literacy, but do it.

While your newspaper has the power, we want this campaign to be headed up by a dynamic volunteer who has a passion for education, literacy, and has a heart and concern for other people, especially those who are illiterate. Be thinking about who in your community would be the very best person for this position. Rome was not built in a day but by laying one brick at a time.

With God's help, we will succeed.(Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)