Women's Conference: Literacy can change lives

Moderating a panel on "Literacy: A Lasting Legacy," Relief Society Gen. Pres. Elaine L. Jack said the new gospel literacy effort, launched by the Relief Society at the end of 1992, is a "total ward effort. It's going to be on the agenda of the ward council meeting, which is under the direction of the bishop."

She explained that there are two purposes to the gospel literacy effort:- To provide training in basic gospel literacy skills for those who cannot read or write.

To encourage lifelong personal spiritual study and self-improvement among all Church members. (See Jan. 30, 1993, issue of the Church News for article describing the gospel literacy effort.)

Panelist Joan Dixon, director of the Literacy Support Initiative at the Center for International Education at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, advised members involved in the gospel literacy effort to "take the time and do informal observation. Don't walk up to people and ask, `What are your reading skills?' Also look for community resources. There may be wonderful literacy programs where you can refer ward members."

Lynn Curtis, director of international programs for Laubach Literacy International, a volunteer literacy program, gave an example of how literacy can change lives. He described a village of Pang Ma Oh in northern Thailand. In 1990, the village began a literacy program, he related. The women of the village then created a cooperative to raise and sell mushrooms. The cooperative was a success.

D. Ray Reutzel, chairman and professor of elementary education at BYU, referred to a study by Dolores Durkin in a book called Children Who Read Early. Listed were characteristics of a home environment where children learn to read early:

Availability of numerous, diverse reading materials.

A special place for reading.

Writing materials - chalkboard, paper and crayons.

Parents who read aloud to their children regularly.

Parents who read regularly as example.

Older siblings who played school with younger siblings.

Mary J. Hausen, director of field services for Literacy Volunteers of America, Wasatch area, encouraged the audience to become involved in volunteer literacy programs. "You're going to find the greatest joy in your life," she promised.

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