To honor the unsung heroes working in every corner of this country as volunteers, the National Association of Counties (NACo) launched the Acts of Caring awards in 2000 as part of the Counties Serve America program, a long-term project to raise public awareness and understanding about county government. The awards recognize that by joining forces with county government, volunteers have a powerful impact on their communities that is both immediate and long lasting. The Orange County Public Library’s READ/Orange County Families for Literacy/Smart Start Program was one of 24 outstanding volunteer programs selected from across the nation to receive the 2003 Acts of Caring award. Congratulations to the Families for Literacy/Smart Start Program!
The Families for Literacy/Smart Start Program (FFL/SS) is a component of READ/Orange County, the adult literacy services of the Orange County Public Library. READ/OC was established in 1991 with a mission to create a more literate community by providing diversified services of the highest quality to all who seek them. READ/OC provides no-cost, direct one-to-one and small group tutoring in basic reading, writing, and English skills to low-level and non-reading residents in Orange County. Tutors are volunteers from the community who are trained professionally to assist learners in improving their literacy skills. At the end of the 23-hour training course, Tutors are able to teach learners in confidential, highly goal oriented, small group sessions. Supplementary workshops are regularly held to provide Tutors with specialized methods to enhance the learning process.
The FFL component was instituted in January 1997 to address the intergenerational cycle of illiteracy and provide services to adults who have at least one child under the age of five. The overt benefit of the FFL program is that adults, by increasing their literacy skills, become more informed community members and more capable in assisting their children to gain literacy skills. Weekly classes are held for adults that focus on goals, often including parenting issues, e.g., What Do Children Need?, How Children Learn?, etc. As part of each class, parents are introduced to appropriate children’s books, techniques are taught so that parents can use books to promote family discussions of values and parents practice reading a book chosen to reinforce the topic. Tutors help parents learn to communicate with teachers and be involved in their children’s school. FFL also provides parent presentations in which parents receive information and tips on bringing literacy into the home and family and hosts Library Welcome events in which families are treated to a special story time and tour of the library.
In June 2001, FFL expanded to include Smart Start (SS), a component that provides direct service to children ages 0 - 5. The overt benefit of the SS program is that children will begin their formal education with the prerequisite skills necessary to ensure success in school. Weekly classes are designed to increase preparedness in the ten indicators of reading readiness – the child will be able to: identify common letter sounds; have an expanded vocabulary; recognize his/her own name in print; work from left to right; understand concepts such as "first," "last," "up," "down," and others; express a preference for certain books/stories over others; sit still and listen attentively when being read to; follow simple instructions and recognize different types of written materials. In addition, children are given books to keep upon enrollment in the program, on their birthday, at special events and during family classes.
Since illiteracy costs business in the United States $245 billion per year in lost wages, retraining, accidents and social services, the benefit of the FFL/SS program extends to all of the residents of Orange County. Children whose parents are functionally illiterate are twice as likely as their peers to be functionally illiterate, creating an on-going intergenerational cycle of illiteracy. Because illiteracy is intergenerational, teaching a parent to read benefits that parent's children, as well as reduces the risk of drop-out as those children go through the school system, consequently impacting the future of business and community in Orange County.
FFL/SS's legacy is lifelong learning. In today's society, the need for adequate literacy skills is imperative. Literacy skills are so tightly woven into every facet of a person's life - civic, professional, and personal - that it is impossible to separate the impact that the lack of these skills has from one aspect to another. In order to better serve the community in which they live, citizens must be equipped for the future. The FFL/SS program works to equip entire families for the future. One million children drop out of school each year. The FFL/SS program works to break this intergenerational cycle by working in combination with parents and their children. FFL assists parents to improve their reading skills and instill a sense of the importance and value of reading. SS's direct work with children builds reading readiness and, thus, assures they have the pro-literacy skills necessary to ensure success when they enter school.
Congratulations to the Orange County Public Library’s READ/OC Families for Literacy/Smart Start Program for the distinguished honor of being selected for the 2003 Acts of Caring Awards!