Literacy Program Has Adults Reading, against the Odds

April 25, 2012

“I never did learn to read — now I have the opportunity.”

This is one of many testimonials about Reading against the Odds, a 2007–08 AAUW Community Action Grant recipient. The touching and personal responses show the program’s dedication to boosting adult literacy rates.

Reading Against the OddsAdult illiteracy is a problem that does not get enough attention. The National Association of Adult Literacy’s last major study on this issue, conducted nearly a decade ago, showed that 12 percent of American adult women and 16 percent of adult men were below basic literacy, which means that they possessed no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills. Even without more recent data, we know that remarkable programs like Reading against the Odds are working hard to improve these statistics.

AAUW member June Porter and Jaye Jones, a co-facilitator with Leslie Reese, developed the program out of the curriculum at Literacy Chicago, the Windy City’s oldest and most renowned adult literacy program. Jones proudly says that she has been able to observe the dramatic reading improvements of the participants, some of whom have been with Reading against the Odds since the inaugural class of 2007.

As a volunteer for Literacy Chicago, Jones wanted to find a way to help struggling adults read for fun. She approached Porter with the idea, and the two developed the proposal for the program. Jones says that the organization could never have existed without the support of AAUW. Thanks to an AAUW Community Action Grant, the group has been able to share its work with various AAUW branches and volunteers in the Chicago area.

Since 2007, Reading against the Odds has continued to be one of the most popular groups at Literacy Chicago. Twenty to 30 students participate in the group, which engages in discussions on books, writers, and new cultural experiences. Originally focused on women, the program now includes men and students for whom English is their second language. The program caters to the participants’ reading requests, which have evolved with the changing composition of the group. The reading curriculum began with a concentration on African American women writers and has expanded to include classics like Hamlet, the work of various Latino authors, and a current focus on the Asian American experience.

The program is also expanding participants’ connection to Chicago’s cultural offerings. After reading Invisible Man, students watched a local production of the work. Additionally, they have become involved with One Book One Chicago, a program that connects the Chicago community — through reading and programming — around one book. In fall 2011, they read The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow. Literacy Chicago co-sponsored a community discussion to further engage participants in the One Book One Chicago selection.

Students speak proudly of the progress they have made, the books they have read, and the skills they have gained with the help of Porter, Jones, and the rest of the Reading against the Odds family. These students exemplify the success that this program has had in fostering an amazing learning community, and they prove that one woman’s idea truly can make a difference.

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Elyssa Shildneck.

AAUWguest By:   |   April 25, 2012


  1. Avatar Mary Brauninger says:

    I am just starting to look into what AAUW is and has been doing in the area of Adult Literacy, and I am encouraged to find this article. Hope to find much more information regarding current AAUW activity in adult literacy as we focus on our branch book club reading in September of “The Teacher Who Couldn’t Read” by John Corcoran and a literacy program for our October general meeting.

  2. Avatar Lynne Velling says:

    Very inspiring work! You go—- teachers June, Jaye and Leslie and students!! Bravo to all! Making profound differences in lives that touch others’ lives.

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