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How volunteer tutors are changing lives through literacy

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Nearly four years ago, Orlando Alfaro moved to the Roaring Fork Valley with the hope of beginning a career as an educator. There was just one major challenge: he could not read, write, or speak any English.

Not one to be deterred easily, Alfaro heeded the advice of his El Salvadoran father to find a way to learn English. With the support of his mother’s friend, Alfaro discovered the key to his future success: Literacy Outreach.

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Literacy Outreach is a Glenwood Springs nonprofit that serves Garfield County adults who are illiterate. Through hands-on, small group or private sessions, students are given the opportunity to learn basic reading and writing skills to propel them into new and exciting opportunities.

Within a few weeks of contacting Literacy Outreach, Alfaro was paired with a tutor and began taking weekly classes when he was not working as a paraprofessional in the Roaring Fork School District.

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“At the beginning I was very nervous,” Alfaro said. “I didn’t know any English. My tutor — Patrick — helped me get comfortable by first speaking in Spanish with me, but after that it was only English. It was very important for me to see progress in myself and to get my career going.”

At Literacy Outreach, there is a common belief that reading is an essential aspect to lead a fulfilling life.

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Martha Fredendall, Executive Director of Literacy Outreach, stressed that learning to read does more than help the individual students — it helps families and the greater community.

“There is a direct correlation to education and income earned,” Fredendall said. “With basic income, families do not have to worry about eviction, needing to move, or food insecurity. [Literacy] creates a safe environment for families.”

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Statistics compiled by ProLiteracy (the nation’s leading adult literacy program) indicate that higher education and literacy reduces poverty, risk of incarceration, hunger, and health care costs. Additionally, children of adults who are proficient in basic reading, writing, and math skills are more likely to finish high school and develop positive relationships.

Last year, Literacy Outreach worked with 157 adult learners across Garfield County. About 90 percent of their students are English second language learners, but they also work with students who have developmental delays in addition to students who went through the basic public school system, but continue to struggle with literacy.

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“We are happy to work with all types of people,” Fredendall said. “In addition to tutoring, we offer citizenship preparation classes, financial literacy classes, pronunciation workshops, and provide safe opportunities for people to practice their skills.”

Recently, students have participated in cooking classes, knitting groups, First Aid courses, a New Castle Police Department self-defense class, and engaged in town treasure hunts to learn directions.

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“It really depends on the learners and what they want to learn,” Fredendall said. “It is a great way to showcase what is most important to them.”

Students also have the opportunity to build long-term relationships with their volunteer tutors. Nearly 90 percent of all tutors remain at Literacy Outreach, creating a safe and consistent learning environment for students to find success. Prospective tutors attend a one-hour information session followed by a three-hour training. Tutoring itself is a three-hour weekly commitment.

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After his first tutor had to leave, Alfaro was quickly paired with another tutor who took his goals into account when moving forward with his education. His second tutor, Kathy, asked him if he wanted to get a degree. Alfaro emphatically concurred expressing that he loved working with children and wanted to be a kindergarten teacher. Within the next two years, he plans to obtain a degree in Early Childhood Education at CMC. He currently supplements his coursework working as a lead teacher at Faith Lutheran Preschool in Carbondale. Alfaro emphasized that perseverance helped him get to where he is now.

“English is very tricky,” Alfaro said. “I’ve been studying it for four years, and it has been hard. There were times when I wanted to drop out, but I told myself that I still have my goal in my heart. My tutors have helped me out so much, and have had a really good impact on my life. I am very grateful.”

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There are 96 students county-wide who are in need of a tutor — and some have been waiting for up to two years. Fredendall emphasized that there is no need to speak Spanish, you just need to have a love of teaching.

Upcoming tutor information sessions are currently ongoing across Garfield County. Visit literacyoutreach.org/tutoring-faq/ or call 945-5282 for a full list of upcoming information sessions, additional volunteer opportunities, or to schedule a session.

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