LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - It is an exciting feeling to read a sentence for the first time. It usually happens by the time you are six years old. But 96 million adults in the U.S. struggle with reading and writing. Literacy Action of Central Arkansas is helping close that gap in the state.
Think of everything you read in a day, newspapers, books, advertising everywhere you look, even important road signs. It's something Oliver Lindsey has struggled with his whole life.
Oliver Lindsey is 31 years old. He was born and raised in Louisiana where he went to school. He says, "They saw there was a problem by the time I got to about the 8th grade." When asked, But you still graduated? He replies, "They still graduated me."
Oliver has a high school diploma, but doesn't know how to read. He tries to sum up what it's like, "It's kind of like being blind."
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina took everything he had. He moved to Arkansas and got a job with the Foodbank. Oliver survived in the workforce by depending on his memory, but when they wanted to promote him, they learned he couldn't read and called Literacy Action.
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Neil Jones is the Executive Director of Literacy Action of Central Arkansas. He says, "Here in Pulaski County we have 30,000 adults who struggle with literacy."
Jones says they serve about 250 adults each year, some are senior citizens.
It is amazing the coping skills that adults have. Many adults have done everything that we believe to be successful in life, they've held jobs, they've raised families, they've paid taxes but they have a secret and that is that many of them they just can't read."
At the time Oliver was entering the program, Bridget Farris decided she wanted to volunteer. She says, "I wanted to make an impact on someone that was lasting and would really change their lives."
Bridget works full time and doesn't have a teaching background. Literacy Action trains volunteers and gives them a curriculum to follow. She says, "We just figured it out."
They have been working together twice a week for two years now. "He told me he was labeled as being slow and having learning disabilities, none of which are true... it was just he'd never learned."
Oliver says, "I feel like I can get it, there really is nothing I can't do."
"He has made tremendous progress." Bridget continues, "When we he reads a particular story and he wants to go learn more about that subject."
Oliver wanted to tell his story to get one point out there. "Never give up and you have to want to learn, want to learn. You can't just give up."
Bridget concludes, "It is a large commitment but I will say that I get as much back as I give because the joy of watching him progress and we have gotten to be friends and we enjoy each others company and we have a lot of laughs."
Oliver and Bridget's relationship goes past the textbook; she takes him to appointments and teaches him life skills.
Oliver recently passed the written part of the test to get a driver's license. He needs another 6 months in the program, Bridget will then get another student and have a friend forever in Oliver.
He has received a promotion at the Foodbank since learning to read.