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Literacy Volunteers Celebrates 40 Years of Service

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – A local organization that has been battling illiteracy for 40 years held an anniversary celebration Tuesday night. Literacy Volunteers of Buffalo and Erie County held a party and has launched its annual donor drive.

Literacy Volunteers hosted an anniversary party at its new downtown Buffalo location on Main Street in the Squire House. Over the last 40years, the not-for-profit agency has been reaching out to those who can't read. But now more than ever, the leaders of this organization say the adult illiteracy rate is still alarmingly high. Tracy Diina is executive director.

"What is troubling is that the problem of illiteracy remains 40 years later," Diina said. "I think 40 years ago, when the organization was founded, they would have predict by the year 2005, illiteracy would have been eradicated. Instead it has proliferated, so our job has really just begun."

But Wednesday night was a chance to celebrate and promote the organization's long-time efforts in the community. The "Wheel of Literacy" was spinning at the celebration -- teaching people how to read. Chris Caulfield was spinning that wheel. It featured questions from "banned books" to literacy trivia -- the prize for answer the question correctly -- books, of course.

"We are promoting literacy," Caufield said. "We are helping people out. We are picking up Buffalo and Erie County and bringing literacy to it."

Over the past 40 years, Literacy Volunteers has served 50,000 people with the help of 5,000 volunteers. John Jones, 49, of Buffalo is a current student. He says he needs to improve his reading skills.

"My problem is learning how to sound out the alphabet," Jones said. "They have given me some credit. They say I'm a pretty good reader. But I've been beating myself up. I don't think I read well, but they say I'm doing okay."

Jones says right now he is unemployed and was having trouble filling out job applications. But he also wants to be able to read to his two young daughters.

"I'm just grateful that I can learn more," Jones said. "They say the sky is the limit, so I'm like a bird, I'm going to fly to the sky."

Jones is one of 800 students Literacy Volunteers is currently serving, but it has more than 200 on a waiting list. The organization has launched a $40,000 appeal drive and is trying to recruit 200 new reading tutors.