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Family, literacy keys to rebuilding America

By Marie P. Grady Special to Reminder Publications Family. It is the building block of society as we know it, the world within which we learn to shape the larger one we will eventually live in. It s no wonder that President Barack Obama made family the central theme of his historic campaign and the foundation of his message about the need to rebuild America. Literacy. It is the dividing line between the audacity to hope, as one unelected King once observed, and the endless march to the end of the line. In these tough times, both the literate and those less fortunate have found their way to the unemployment line. But those without an education usually end up there sooner and stay there longer than many of us. Thanks to two new family literacy pilot programs funded by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development in Springfield, some families will get a fighting chance. The Greater Springfield YMCA and Square One recently won a competitive proposal process for $30,000 in state funding each to offer comprehensive family literacy pilot programs, according to Maura Geary, who heads literacy initiatives for the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County Inc. The state investment couldn t have come at a more critical time. We know that education leads to a lifetime of earning potential for parents, Geary said. And those gains are transferred to young students. Geary points to a recent report from the Institute for Research on Poverty which determined that even a $1,000 increase in parental income translates into a six percent increase for their children on math and reading test scores. Now, more than ever, we need to address the continuum of educational needs necessary to build a better workforce for the city of Springfield, said Geary, a former public policy specialist for the United Way who also has been an adult literacy instructor. In addition to offering instruction to parents and children, the programs also will encourage literacy-rich homes and help parents to be the primary teachers and full partners in the education of their children. About 20 families will be served at an intergenerational teen parent program at the Y that also involves grandparents. Square One and the Massachusetts Career Development Institute (MCDI) will provide services to about 15 families, including parents enrolled at MCDI and children enrolled in early childhood education programs at Square One. The funding will allow the two organizations to integrate and intensify services and add shared literacy activities between parents and children. The pilot projects are part of a city workforce development plan that is based upon expanding literacy at all levels, including establishing a pilot universal pre-kindergarten program. Drafted by the Regional Employment Board with Mayor Domenic Sarno and community leaders, the plan got off the ground last August when Suzanne Bump, secretary of the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, announced $1.3 million in preliminary funding. Geary said the support of Bump and the administration of Gov. Deval Patrick demonstrate a vision that defies the pessimism that flourishes in times of economic distress. Parents like Kaytlin Anderson attended a YMCA family literacy program last summer in the hopes of following her own vision toward a better life. Anderson was dreaming of a career in the medical field while she worked toward her GED. Since then, Anderson has obtained her GED and finished a semester at Springfield Technical Community College toward a degree in the field. Her success is among the reasons Sarah Dupuis, director of the program for teen parents, and her staff work so hard to help their students succeed. It s so exciting, said Dupuis. She s an inspiration. For Anderson, the inspiration to follow her dreams is her young daughter Gabriella. In the words a new president borrowed from a wise King, she gives her mother the audacity to believe in a world where all things are possible. For more information on literacy programs, contact Program Manager Maura Geary at mgeary@rebhc.org or Literacy Works Project liaison Marie P. Grady at mgrady@rebhc.org.

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