Our Opinion: LitNet pursues worthy campaign of dreams

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Literacy — or rather, the lack of it — is not a subject that readily comes to mind when Americans consider the intractable problems this country faces. Issues like poverty, inadequate health care, crime, racism and income disparity receive a great deal of press, and while the problem of American illiteracy doesn't get much space in the limelight, its effects are just as pernicious as higher-profile societal ills.

According to the Literacy Project Foundation, the U.S. ranks 12th in literacy among the 20 highest-income nations. Fifty percent of adults cannot read a book at eighth-grade level, and 45 million adult Americans are functionally illiterate — which means that they cannot read or write adequately enough to meet the requirements of living in modern society. Universal literacy is an assumption embraced by many who learned to read and write as children. Consequently, they may not even realize that there are those living among them who have been forced to develop elaborate strategems to conceal the fact that they cannot read or write. The lack of these two invaluable and necessary skills has held such people back from realizing their full potential, and in some cases has caused them to be a drain on public resources. Moreover, they have had to live their lives carrying a stigma for which they are not responsible.

Bearing in mind the life-scarring consequences of illiteracy, any organization that seeks to remedy this silent and shadowy societal affliction deserves to be recognized and encouraged in its work. The Literacy Network of South Berkshire, better known as LitNet, is devoted to teaching literacy by bringing volunteer tutors together with students, using available public spaces as venues. The group just celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, and continues to thrive thanks to contributions such as a grant from the Marblehead-based Gilson Family Foundation, a philanthropy with Berkshire County roots that has promised to match up to $30,000 in private donations.

Nonprofit LitNet currently serves between 100 and 200 students per month in southern Berkshire County, and in a sign of the times, an organization that began by teaching literacy skills to native English speakers now finds that the majority of those it serves are immigrants and new citizens. Accordingly, LitNet has just kicked off "The "American Dream Campaign" to raise funds to meet its $204,400 operating budget.

The title of the initiative is apt because it is based on the conviction that no one who lives in this country should be denied a chance to pursue his or her dreams, and while this goal may never be fully realized, it is nevertheless a worthy one, and it certainly helps to level the playing field when every American — whether native born, newly minted or endeavoring to pass a citizenship test — is reading and writing on the same page.

What could be more inspiring than Americans reaching out to help their neighbors become more productive members of society? What could be more gratifying than to feel included and empowered after having been relegated to the sidelines of American life? When the scourge of illiteracy is beaten, everyone benefits. Kudos to LitNet and organizations like it that seek to extirpate it from our midst.


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