The NYPL's Centers for Reading and Writing have served thousands of New Yorkers over the years - making some adults genuinely literate for the first time in their lives and improving literacy skills for many others.
In every case, a volunteer did the "heavy lifting."
Every pair—approximately half of the teaching is one-on-one—and every group has its own dynamic and its own priceless stories, but this one is very fresh in my mind.
At the Aguilar Center for Reading and Writing (174 East 110th St.), there is a 6-day-a-week program, including Saturdays. In the Saturday morning program, individual students and tutors are paired for the entire year. Most of the volunteer tutors work all week, and devote Saturday mornings to tutoring our students. Most of the Saturday students also hold down jobs from Monday through Friday.
Our Literacy Celebration on June 19th was one part recognition of the enormous strides the students have made over the past year and one part recognition of the outstanding job the volunteers have done to engineer that progress.
One tutor wrote me an email on the morning of the celebration expressing her very deep regrets that she wouldn't be there. She's been volunteering for about 4 years, driving in from Westchester on Saturday mornings—recently, she moved to Danbury, so her drive got longer, but her degree of commitment was such that she just left a little earlier to make an even longer trip into the city. (One recent Saturday, it took her longer to park in East Harlem than it did to make the total drive!)
Her student called her the night before with a message: his boss had asked him to work a double shift on Saturday, and he couldn't say no. He was really sorry he couldn't attend the celebration, but he needed to bring in the extra money since he recently was left with a double rent payment after his roommate moved out.
They both KNOW how valuable their collaboration has been, formal celebration or no. And no doubt, the student and tutor will find a way to continue their working together throughout the summer.
Meanwhile, 20 students read pieces they wrote, using skills that our volunteers worked prodigiously to instill. Some have gotten to approximately third grade reading level, others even higher.
At the celebration, both students and tutors talked about how much they have learned from one another. One tutor read a congratulatory note from her student's employer who is thrilled for his commitment and success in learning to read. That student brought not only his wife, but his two sons to the celebration. They all glowed! One student introduced her 7 year old son, saying "He's my tutor at home!"
The NYPL has served millions of New Yorkers over the years—this is a great time to remember and say THANK YOU to the hundreds of New Yorkers whose volunteer work at the NYPL has helped it keep delivering invaluable services.
And to all the Aguilar CRW tutors—a million thanks! Without you, our program would not be viable... Without you, there would be that many more NYC citizens unable to read and write—you've empowered them and enriched their lives!