This Wednesday, volunteers for the Adult Literacy Program begin classes that will help them to mentor Santa Barbara residents who have difficulty reading.

The program, managed by the Santa Barbara Public Library, currently has 70 active tutor/learner pairs, with new learners registering every week. Thousands of tutors and approximately 1,500 learners have gone through the literacy program over its 15 years. Funding for the program has been based on grants from the California State Public Library in the past, but these funds have been cut because of the state’s economic hardships. A large part of the program’s funding had also been received from local corporations. However, the program is not heavily reliant on funding, because the courses are free to students and tutors volunteer their time.

During training sessions for the literacy program, potential tutors are introduced to the different levels of illiteracy and the issues surrounding the problem. Head coordinator Beverly Schwartzberg said the literacy programs caters to different levels of reading and writing that individuals, including those who have learned English as a second language, might have.

“We have learners who are now retired, lived all over the world, have had successful careers, but can only write their names. Or, people have dropped out of high school and need additional help for passing the GED,” Schwartzberg said. “Their ages can vary from 18 to 70 years old.”

Learners are paired with tutors after an interview process in which Schwartzberg is able to assess the learners’ degree of illiteracy. She then pairs learners with tutors on the basis of schedule and common interests.

Schwartzberg said many of the tutors learn to understand how it feels to look at a page and see nothing but a jumble of letters. The training programs also instruct the tutors on how to teach vocabulary, spelling and how to correctly break down syllables and pronounce various words. Schwartzberg said the most important features of a good tutor cannot be learned in a classroom.

“The tutor should always remember to be positive, praise a learner’s efforts and remember how important it is to build up a learner’s self-esteem. The learning process, especially for adults, is often quite difficult,” Schwartzberg said. “They know they have a problem, but it takes a great deal of courage to face it. We’re not miracle workers, but we try really hard.”

Although many learners enter the program seeking to better their occupation, pass the GED or receive a diploma, Schwartzberg said most learners are parents who just want to be able to read to their children. According to Schwartzberg, illiteracy is often intergenerational; parents who do not read are likely to have children that do not read.

Tutors for the program come from a variety of fields. Tricia Green, a retired operations manager for a software company, has been a part of the Adult Literacy Program for 18 months.

“Can you imagine trying to get through a day of life without having to read for your very survival? It must be incredibly difficult and in some cases scary,” Green said. “Think about not being able to read directions on a medicine bottle, or street signs. Can you imagine life without the pleasure of reading – for fun, or to learn something new or to share a story with a child?”

Tutors said they find the greatest value from the program in simply helping an individual better their lives by learning to read.

“To say that it’s ‘fun’ sounds trivial, but it is fun. And it’s the way that I’ve decided I can make a difference, even if it’s just one person at a time,” Green said.

There are two additional sessions for would-be tutors on Oct. 15 and 22. Training classes meet from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Those who are interested in registering to become a volunteer or in receiving additional information should call 564-5619. Pre-registration for the tutoring classes is requested.