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Library Literacy Program helps adults learn to read

    At 55 years of age, many people dream of the day they will retire. Some make plans to travel and see the world. Still others in their golden years want to continue working in their careers.
    For Shirley Walton, she had only one wish ... to learn to read.
     “I always wanted to read to my children and grandchildren, but I couldn’t,” she said.
    Like hundreds of thousands of other adults in Georgia, Walton had a desire to learn to read, but did not have the courage to seek help for most of her life. But a twist of fate put Shirley’s husband Larry in an employee meeting at Brooks Instrument in 1999 when Elaine McDuffie was the guest speaker.  
    “I was actually speaking to the Brooks employees about adult literacy on behalf of United Way,” McDuffie said. She has been the Literacy Coordinator and Youth Services Librarian at the Statesboro Library for 22 years.
    Larry Walton came home from work that day and encouraged his wife to begin the adult literacy program. During the past eight years, Shirley Walton has been an exemplary student, often meeting two days a week for two-hour sessions with a number of committed volunteers.  
    “It has changed my life,” the blue-eyed mother of three and grandmother of eight said.
    She considers McDuffie to be her mentor. As the two women plowed through all of the learning series together, they established a deep relationship of trust, which allows Walton to share details about her childhood and the huge role it played in her developing literacy skills.
    As a child, Walton had two accidents that severely impacted her time in the classroom.  
    When she was 5 or 6 years old, she suffered head injuries when she was accidentally struck by a car.  
    “I remember nothing of the accident, just waking up in the hospital asking my mother for ice cream,” she said.  
    School was delayed as a result of her injuries, and once she did start, she had trouble keeping up.
    Then, when she was 11, growing up in the country near Metter, she was burned severely.  
    “I was at home one day baby-sitting and my clothes caught on fire from the indoor fireplace,” Walton said. “I ran outside and rolled around in the dirt to put the fire out."
    Then the young girl, badly injured and carrying her baby sister in her arms, walked for five miles to find her father at work.  
    “He took me to the hospital and I stayed there for nine months with severe burns on my body, especially my back,” she said.
    Shirley missed two more years of school because of the accident. By then she was a teenager, and she felt she was too far behind to ever catch up.   
    When McDuffie first meets students in the adult literacy program, she interviews them and conducts a beginning assessment to help set goals the students want to accomplish.
    “Especially for adults, reading needs to relate to the real world," McDuffie said. "They have more specific and practical goals than children do."  
    For many adult students, the goals are simple: They want to read their child’s papers and the things they bring home from school. Others want to read doctor’s instructions, rental agreements, or the test to obtain a driver’s license. In Shirley’s case, in addition to helping her children and grandchildren, she wanted to help her husband manage the family’s finances and to learn to use a computer.  
    “Reading is just one skill among thousands,” McDuffie said. “People compensate in such great ways when they cannot read. I am always amazed at the level of intelligence and innovation.  Shirley, for example, is very smart and can probably do many things I cannot do.”
    Walton met one of her goals a few years ago when she attended a Reading is FUNdamental (RIF) book distribution and read a children’s book to her granddaughter for the very first time.  
    “For all the years I have known her, she has never once lost sight of her goals," McDuffie said. "Shirley is a living example of how literacy can change lives. In spite of the early hardships and the continuing challenges she faces each day, she can be very proud of her personal accomplishments. Through it all her wonderful spirit just keeps shining through.”
    The Library Literacy Program is one of 20 United Way agencies in Bulloch County.  If you would like to give to United Way, send your tax deductible contribution to United Way of Southeast Georgia, 515 Denmark St., Suite 1100, Statesboro, GA  30458

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