Source: Sherman Publications

‘Change someone’s life, open world through words’

by Susan Bromley

March 12, 2014

The ability to read is a skill often taken for granted, but not by adults taking part in the Oakland Literacy Council’s one-on-one learn to read tutoring program.

“All of our students establish goals with a tutor— not only reading at a certain grade level, but what they want to do in life that they couldn’t before,” said Shari Barrick, OLC operations manager. “Things like fill out a job application, read the Bible, read instructions on a recipe. Things they couldn’t do before because of illiteracy.”

The OLC, which is celebrating 30 years of helping Oakland County residents learn to read, always with the same tried-and-true method of assigning one tutor to one student, currently has 600 people in the program (300 students matched to 300 tutors). There is a waiting list of 60 students and OLC is seeking more volunteer tutors.

“Tutors are so happy with what they are able to do and to give back and see someone grow,” said Barrick. “They often tell me they’ve gained more than the student.”

The OLC continues to see increases in the number of residents seeking literacy assistance. In 2013, the number of student applicants increased by 20 percent over the previous year. Students range in age from 18 to 80-years-old. The only requirement is that they live, work, or attend school in Oakland County. Many students speak English as a second language. Some students never completed school, while others have attained some college credits.

Barrick notes that some students immigrated here a few years ago or decades before, from places where they weren’t allowed an education, or where it was looked down upon for females to attend school after eighth grade.

After a potential student calls OLC, an initial appointment is set up and one of three part-time OLC staffmembers will test the student’s current reading level in English. Foreign students take a reading and listening test to give a baseline of understanding. In order to qualify for the OLC program, a student must test below a ninth grade reading level.

Once accepted, students must commit to staying in the program for one year, meeting face-to-face with their tutor for two hours per week and completing homework to improve their skills up to a higher grade level. The program’s only cost is a one-time $25 registration fee.

Volunteer tutors are certified through 12 hours of classroom training in reading strategies, techniques, development of lesson plans and role-playing. Some volunteers go on field trips with their students, to cultural institutions like the Detroit Institute of Arts, but also just to the grocery store, or even to a yoga class. Volunteers are matched to students based on location and interests, and can meet for tutoring sessions at agreed upon places, often libraries or churches.

OLC has thousands of books that are geared to adults, but also level appropriate and not condescending.

“Commitment by both parties is the key to success, you have to keep plugging away at it,” said Barrick. “Some of the students are embarrassed. One gentleman tried to write a letter to his brother and couldn’t do it, he was frustrated. We have some students who have been in the program for many years and we allow them to stay as long they keep making progress. Some of the ESL students want to give back and teach traditions of their country to their tutors. It’s so inspiring. We hear stories of how they were not allowed to read a book or had to drop out to work and take care of the family. You can change someone’s life and open the world through words.”

OLC has tutor training sessions coming up at the end of this month, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., March 29, 6 p.m.-8:30 p.m., March 31, and from 6 p.m.-8:30 p.m., April 2, all at the OLC located at 2550 S. Telegraph Road, Bloomfield Hills. More tutoring sessions are planned for May. For more information, call 248-253-1617 or go to