The three charities benefiting from the 54th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game serve a wide swath of the capital region, providing support that helps the area's vulnerable population. Last year the game raised more than $400,000 for the Washington Literacy Center , the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington . Yolanda Jones of the Washington Literacy Center remembers taking her students to Starbucks, then realizing she had made a mistake. The trip was supposed to be a treat, but the students' body language indicated something was wrong.
The people she works with are functionally illiterate and “caramel macchiato” was not a phrase in most of their vocabularies. The students grabbed drinks out of the fridge because they couldn’t read the drink names.
Functional illiteracy is defined by reading skills at or below a third-grade level. For the 90,000 adults in Washington, D.C., who meet this definition, there are obstacles to overcome every day. Going to a restaurant, registering to vote, even dealing with personal finances and health care are avoided or delegated.
Christen Cunningham, the WLC's head of instruction, recalled interviewing one student who was interested in the program because he wanted to be able to take money out of an ATM and write his own checks.
Some of the students at the WLC graduated with a high school diploma and are still functionally illiterate. Cunningham mentions how people always say the WLC gives people a second chance, but in reality, “for many of our students, this is a first chance.”
Jones, who has been with the WLC for three years, started teaching literacy many years ago. Her cousin struggled with reading. With her own love for books, Jones decided she wanted to be able to share that with him. That desire to share her love of literature led her to the WLC, where she works part time.
The WLC has seen some impressive growth in recent years. Its student retention rate has increased from 42 percent to 80 percent, it has added a new classroom, and begun offering math and computer classes.
Others are noticing. Groups such as DC Central Kitchen have reached out to the WLC looking for ways to increase job literacy.
Jones said one of the most rewarding aspects of the job is knowing that “every time you impact one person, you impact a family.” She recalled a grandfather being able to read to his grandkids for the first time. He regretted not being able to do that for his own children.
In 2012 , the proceeds from the game helped move the WLC into its new location at the Thurgood Marshall Center. In 2013, the school was able to purchase the Wilson reading system, a method that relies on visual, audible and tactile cues to help teach reading skills. Last year , the game proceeds were used to research potential math programs and expand pilot projects.
This year, the WLC has two plans for the funds. "Adult learners are also requesting a basic math program using the same explicit learning techniques. The Congressional Baseball Game funding will support a pilot math small group tutoring program" Terry Algire, the center's executive director, said in an email. The second goal is to develop a "diverse, sustainable revenue stream" over the course of the next three years.
Meanwhile, according to a spokesperson for the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation, this year’s proceeds will support the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, a year-round educational and athletic facility for at-risk kids in the District.
The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington has been a long-time partner of the game. The organization serves more than 11,000 kids every day during the school year. Partnering with the baseball game "enables us to serve the youth that we currently serve, and the opportunity to grow," said Paul Alagero, the organization's chief development officer.
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