Chatham Literacy sees avenues for growth

BY DAVID BRADLEY, News + Record Staff
Posted 9/20/19

In archery, you must aim your arrow at the target before you release it. Without a target, you can’t aim your arrow.

Literacy service organizations have been working to find that target, and in …

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Chatham Literacy sees avenues for growth

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In archery, you must aim your arrow at the target before you release it. Without a target, you can’t aim your arrow.

Literacy service organizations have been working to find that target, and in a county the size and diversity of Chatham, the target isn’t always easy to find.

It’s tough to hit any unknown target, and with more than 25 organizations in Chatham County providing some level of literacy services, the target that they are trying to hit comes from the answers to these basic questions: What are the needs in the community? Who is meeting these needs? Who are we missing?

With these questions in mind, Linda Nalty, chairman of the Chatham Literacy Council’s board of directors, began a research project to find the bullseye.

After a meeting with provider agencies to discover needs for their clients, and where their clients go to address literacy needs, a survey was developed.

Vicki Newell, the executive director of Chatham Literacy, says that in the process of developing survey tools for the project, which included similar assessments from around the country, they found no literacy assessments in North Carolina, or the county.

After a nearly two-year project, financed with grant funding, and a massive volunteer effort to find the needs in the community, a final document was produced that is designed to show the multiple targets needed to meet literacy issues in the county.

The project, consisting of surveys from residents, organizations and businesses, combined face-to-face interviews with online surveys to generate final results, which were delivered to literacy providers in the county at a meeting on Aug. 28 in Pittsboro.

There were some surprising results.

Newell said “a high percentage of those interviewed own smart phones, and a high percentage have access to the Internet, most through phones and many through libraries. There was a high interest and demonstrated needs for English, and financial literacy, how to obtain affordable housing, how to get a job, promotion, or better job.”

This is surprising because it showed new avenues of literacy training. Since most of their respondents have a cellphone, then, Newell says, “This information could change how we communicate with our adult learners and what they can do from home. Typically we hear that our learners do not have access to the Internet; however, now we know they can access the internet through their phones. This opens up the potential for online tutoring that we had not considered.”

The survey went beyond the basics of reading and writing, covering more than 300 survey items that revealed needs in verbal comprehension, workplace soft skills (communication, problem-solving, teamwork, and professionalism are a few) being able to read forms and documents, financial matters, and health.

Difficulty understanding English was reported by 16-22 percent of all those that took the survey, regardless of their usual language, which means some native English speakers are having problems. This means that a person may not be able to fill out a job application, read and understand a newspaper article, balance a checkbook, or other essential literacy functions.

The problems created by this lack of understanding may mean an inability to assist children with homework, to understand their own weaknesses in English, and lack of knowledge about how to fix the problems.

With this data from surveys from businesses and residents in the area, agencies that work with literacy needs have a target, and they can create a plan to change and meet these needs in the community. The need to learn to read and understand the different kinds of financial information, job requirements and how to live in the community are all part of the survey, and yet, for some, these are easy concepts.

Newell says that there are many reasons why these are not as easy as they would seem. There are potential problems, such as access to classes, the awareness of services and their availability, getting transportation to a service provider, work schedules that may interfere with work or families, and the costs involved.

“Chatham Literacy works with all of these factors, in an attempt to provide free tutoring access, flexible scheduling, and convenient and safe training locations,” Newell said. “There is also pride, and fear.”

The solutions aren’t easy, but the release of the document to these provider agencies is designed to create a target for each organization to shoot for. Some of the potential solutions suggested by Chatham Literacy include working with businesses to create referrals about needs, tutors coming to workplaces with approval to assist those in need.

“Solutions can be complex, so the strategy would be to identify and target approaches,” Newell said.

David Bradley can be reached at


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