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Amin Purry, 14, teaches younger children how to read as part of the Marilyn Hamilton Literacy Program at Pitt Park in July.

PITTSFIELD -- Last summer, Manfred "Manny" Slaughter and his wife Vanessa began adding a literacy component to their summer youth sports and recreation program.

After seeing students’ struggles, along with their abilities to succeed with the extra support, the Slaughters began working to expand the initiative through St. John’s Masonic Lodge No. 10, with fiscal support from the Pittsfield Family YMCA, Berkshire United Way, the City of Pittsfield, Greylock Federal Credit Union, TD Charitable Foundation, SEI/Aaron’s Inc. and other donors.

This summer, the Lodge, with a team of adult and teen literacy volunteers, led an ambitious effort with more than 70 kids who live in the city’s Westside and Morningside neighborhoods. Last week, nearly every youth who started the program graduated from the program, earning certificates, medals and handshakes from various local and state dignitaries and program leaders during a ceremony at Pitt Park. The 25 top readers also earned gift certificates to Barnes & Noble bookstore.

One student, rising ninth-grader Charles Ramsey II, logged the most reading hours, more than 70 since the program began July 7. Rising fourth-grader Taina Figueroa was honored for reading four books a week.

"I’m really happy with the outcome and the support we got from the community," said Manny Slaughter.

He said the program assessed students before and after the program, and while the scores are still being reviewed, he said the majority of kids showed improvement.


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"Literacy is very important to us and our kids, so this is going to be an ongoing project," he said.