Literacy Project celebrates 25 years | VailDaily.com

Literacy Project celebrates 25 years

Cortni O’Brien
Special to the Daily

EAGLE COUNTY — This summer, The Literacy Project of Eagle County is celebrating a major milestone. The volunteer-based literacy program has been improving lives in Eagle County through education since 1990, and the impact they have made on the Eagle Valley community in 25 years is profound.

When asked to recall a favorite student, Executive Director Colleen Gray diplomatically declares she cannot name just one. But she does have a favorite student quote. Former literacy student Earl Mills once told Gray, "If someone offered me $1,000,000 to go back to the way I was before I could read, I would turn them down."

This statement from Mills serves as a constant reminder to Gray. In the nonprofit world, in which every penny counts, it is important to remember that the gift of literacy is priceless. The Literacy Project of Eagle County seeks to empower Eagle Valley community members of all ages by offering free assistance in acquiring the literacy and English skills they need to function more effectively in their daily lives. For the program's 200 adult students, learning English means gaining the ability to get better jobs, get medical help when children are sick, manage their daily lives and become more engaged in the community.

"Literacy is perhaps the most powerful weapon we have against poverty, unemployment, poor health and inadequate housing," Gray said. "Year after year, our students prove that a person's ability to rise above each of those barriers is directly related to their ability to speak well and read well."

Many students have demonstrated the long-term impact of the program on the Eagle County community. Scherezada Milfeld, who will be recognized at this year's fundraiser luncheon on Thursday, was a Literacy Project student 20 years ago. Today, Milfeld teaches GED classes for Colorado Mountain College and is the editor of Vail en Espanol magazine. Milfeld still has the first book that Sloan Munter, her Literacy Project tutor, gave her: "Basic English Grammar." Milfeld has declared it "the best book ever."

How it began

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It is estimated that 1,500 illiterate adults reside in Eagle County, giving the area the highest percentages of English language learners in the state at 34.6 percent, compared to the state average of 14.4 percent.

The Literacy Project of Eagle County was founded and received its nonprofit designation in 1990 after an Eagle County School District task force identified parental illiteracy as a major barrier to children's educational progress, especially in cases in which parents were unable to help their children with their homework assignments.

That first year, The Literacy Project served 20 individuals — a number that has grown exponentially as the population of limited English speakers has grown in Eagle County. Today, The Literacy Project provides a variety of programs to support literacy education and serves more than 500 adults and children annually.

The Literacy Project offers several programs. For adults, there is one-to-one tutoring, in which an adult volunteer is paired with an adult student with low-level speaking and/or reading literacy, for ESL or GED preparation. There are also free ESL classes offered weekly at the Avon, Eagle and Gypsum public libraries.

For school-age students, The Literacy Project has four main programs: Study Friends, in which adult tutors work with academically at-risk middle school students, teaching them skills to better meet the academic and social demands of today. A collaboration with the Eagle Valley Library District, the Reading Buddies Program pairs teens in grades 9-12 with children in grades 1-3 to share an hour of reading each week. The Math Tutorial Program is a weekly math tutorial offered at the Avon and Gypsum libraries for students in grades 6-8 needing assistance in mathematics. And Raising a Reader, which impacts Eagle County's youngest residents, is a preschool program designed to engage parents in the routine of reading daily with their children from birth to age 5.

Annual luncheon

The students are not the only ones who benefit from these programs. The heart of The Literacy Project's life-long learning programs are the volunteer tutors that dedicate their time and energy to teach students in one-to-one tutoring, or group classes. For the past year, Kyle Diebel has tutored a student at the Homestake Peak Expeditionary Learning School.

"I chose to volunteer with The Literacy Project to give back to a community that I feel offers so much to me," Diebel said. "I was lucky enough to have outside influences in my childhood that had a great impact on my education. I realize how important it is to have support; not only from teachers and parents, but from others in the community as well."

The Literacy Project's anniversary celebration will culminate on Thursday at the organization's largest fundraiser of the year — their annual luncheon and silent auction. This year's luncheon will feature Amanda Enayati, speaker and author of the new book "Seeking Serenity: The 10 New Rules for Health and Happiness in the Age of Anxiety." For tickets, to donate or for more information on volunteering with The Literacy Project, visit http://www.literacyprojecteaglecounty.org.

If you go …

What: The Literacy Project’s annual Luncheon Fundraiser.

Where: The Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa in Avon.

When: Thursday at 11:30 a.m.

Cost: $125 includes lunch and a copy of Amanda Enayati’s book “Seeking Serenity: The 10 New Rules for Health and Happiness in the Age of Anxiety.”