For Antonio Ward, the hardest part was admitting that he couldn’t read.
“I did well in elementary school, but not in middle school,” he said. “I couldn’t read like the other kids. By high school, I was ashamed. I was getting older and hanging with the wrong kind of kids.”
Ward dropped out of high school. He tried to get into a GED program but could not pass the assessment test. Then he found the Washington Literacy Center, a nonprofit designed to serve adults in the greater Washington community who struggle with basic reading skills. Initially intimidated, Ward found the WLC staff to be nice, friendly and encouraging.
“I just like being here, period,” Ward said, speaking to an audience at a WLC reception at the Thurgood Marshall Center in the U Street neighborhood. “I have perfect attendance.”
Ward plans to receive his GED diploma and then get a job in construction or carpentry.
“I see the world differently because I can read stuff,” he explained.
It is students like Ward who will benefit from additional funds provided to the Washington Literacy Center. Each year, part of the proceeds from the CQ Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game go to the WLC, which has a long history of success in the D.C. region.
Re-Entry Point for Education
Terry Algire, the WLC’s executive director, estimates that there are 64,000 to 90,000 adults in the D.C. area who read below a fifth-grade level.
“They can’t get GEDs, they can’t get into a job training program or complete a job application,” Algire explained. “Our goal is to improve basic reading skills.”
Algire said students who come to the WLC struggle to complete a job application without assistance. After several months in the program, they are better prepared for the workforce and able to take the next steps toward their life goals.
“We serve as a re-entry point for education,” Algire said. “One hundred percent of our students are determined to improve their reading to take the next step in their long-term education or employment goals.”
This year, the funds provided by the Congressional Baseball Game will go toward purchasing the Wilson Reading System, a teaching program that focuses on the structure of language. Students sound out words by “tapping” their fingers.
“There is a formula for sounding out a word,” said Yolanda Jones, a WLC instructor. “This provides the tools.”
For the past year, students have been using the system as part of a pilot program. It’s been so successful that Algire and the WLC board have decided to use it for future classes.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.