HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL WHO ARE PART OF PROLITERACY—BOARD, STAFF, DONORS, AND MEMBER ORGANIZATIONS!
I can’t thank all of you enough for everything you’re doing to keep ProLiteracy growing and changing people’s lives. As I look back on my own life of 105 years, I still can’t believe that when I started Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA) in 1961, illiteracy was not only an unmet need locally, but across the U.S. and the world.
For those of you who don’t know how, why, or when I started LVA (now ProLiteracy), here’s a shortened version:
The 1960 U.S. Census stated that there were 11,055 functional illiterates in my city of Syracuse, New York. Who were they? Why couldn’t they read? And what was being done to help them? NOTHING. I couldn’t believe a world without reading, so I arranged a coffee at my house, invited members of the Board of Education and presidents of local charities, and I gave a short talk on the need for literacy. All were shocked, but only one leader invited me to speak to their charity. They voted to sponsor a literacy project—but only if I would take charge. That was the start of Literacy Volunteers of America.
We not only had excellent PR, but a strong response from volunteer tutors as well as students who wanted help. But I went the wrong way and focused purely on phonics, and after a year, we lost tutors and students. I called Dr. Frank Greene, head reading Ph.D. at Syracuse University, who told me I was 30 years behind the times and offered to help me and gave me training with his Ph.D. reading students. That included asking individual students what they wanted to read and finding their strengths and weaknesses using the READ test; building lesson plans; exploring the true ways to teach phonics, but admitting that all vowels and many other letters have more than one sound; finding patterned/family words and sight words; and building comprehension. And LVA grew, immediately going across the country.
As for me, at 105, I count my blessings that I still have a strong and open mind. Through lifelong learning, I have learned why I’m the person I am by looking back at my early life, something none of us have any control over. You can read about me in my memoir My Travels Through Life, Love, and Literacy: A Journey 100 Years in the Making, and I hope it inspires each of you to look back at your own lives to see why you are the person you are.
COVID has been disturbing to everyone. I have had two vaccines and a booster shot. I wear a mask when with others. But I keep researching, giving presentations across the country through Zoom, and exercising to keep my 105-year-old body and mind in shape. I usually go to California in February and March to see my son and daughter and other family where they live, but with COVID and my age, I no longer travel long distances.
I live independently, but my son and daughter call me daily to be sure all is OK. I’m on two boards of directors, in two book clubs, active in church and several community groups. I exercise daily and, in the summer, I play nine holes of golf at the Onondaga Golf and Country Club, which has made me an honorary member, giving me so many privileges.
I got a call from Albert Einstein College of Medicine inviting me to be a part of its research on longevity. I agreed, and through Zoom, they challenged me with amazing questions on memory.
Reading is still strong in my life, always reminding me of those who cannot read, driving me continue my research and learning. I’m blessed that I have so many young friends (I give my age always, for it makes everyone feel young) who shop for me, bring food over, and drive me to appointments and meetings.
Yes, I’m 105, but age is just a number, and I have a big one. What’s important is what you do with your number.
At ProLiteracy, I’d like to welcome Mark Vineis, our new CEO, with special thanks for taking over. And thank you to Kevin Morgan for all you’ve done over the years to help ProLiteracy grow.
Blessings to all of you, and again a big THANKS to each of you for sharing your skills and your time to help others learn to read, write, speak, and understand English. You are changing lives. And again, HAPPY HOLIDAYS.