More than 778,000 South Carolinians hide a secret: They can not read. Turning Pages SC, an adult literacy council, helps those secret keepers live a better life.
Most people in the council’s free programs say they felt pushed through school without ever learning to read.
“Everyday activities are hard for the adults who ask us for help,” says Lisa Cole, the council’s Interim Executive Director. “It goes beyond not being able to read a book. Our learners struggle with filling out applications, following street signs, or even understanding medicine labels.”
These adults use tricks to adapt to life without reading while keeping their secret hidden. That is, until their own kids start school. Out of the 6,000 adults the council has tutored, most started after becoming parents.
“Kids change our lives,” said Cole. “They force us to think about our future. Finding a better job and making more money are major motivations for this age group. Reading does that for them.”
A person is never too old to learn how to read, however. Their programs also attract retirees.
“I thank God I found you,” one 66-year-old learner said. “I feel so blessed. Everyone called me dumb because I couldn’t read. But I’m not dumb.”
For that age group, learning to read goes beyond job-driven goals. These learners come with a deep need to win a lifelong battle. Reading stories to grandchildren, reading their Bible for themselves, and wanting to prove they can do it are their most stated motivations.
In January, five new learners were accepted into Turning Pages SC programs and paired with tutors. All of them read below a 7th-grade level.
“Our work helps each learner unlock the life they want,” said Cole. “Then they can shed a secret they’ve carried way too long.”
Founded in 1968 as the Greater Columbia Literacy Council, Turning Pages SC teaches adults to read through personalized, one-on-one tutoring that is free. Volunteers are trained and then matched with learners and no-cost curriculum kits. One-hour weekly sessions are held at public locations such as the Richland Library or local parks.