Mary Waldo is a retiree and president of the board of directors and tutor at Literacy Action of Central Arkansas.

What drew you to get involved with Literacy Action?

I wanted to be involved with community activities that would allow me to be of direct service. I was also inspired by Bridget Fennel Ferris, a friend who had wonderful success tutoring a young survivor of Hurricane Katrina; he made amazing progress due to Bridget’s help. And I believe in literacy as a right. Changing lives is incredibly rewarding, and that’s what happens with Literacy Action of Central Arkansas.

Why is reading important?

Reading is a foundation for all aspects of our lives. Through it we discover all kinds of information needed to get a job, raise a family, learn about current events, qualify for higher education, learn about our cultural heritage. More than that it enriches us, inspires our imagination and sparks our creativity. Being able to read means we are constantly expanding our vocabulary and our ability to express ourselves in communicating with one another.

Imagine what it is like to pick up a newspaper or magazine and not be able to read it. Reading impacts our daily lives: reading street signs, directions on a prescription bottle, following a recipe, reading a bus schedule, filling out a job application or applying for a driver’s license, much less using modern technology. It’s a reading world in which we receive new ideas. To be left out of that mainstream is to be constantly challenged and often experience failure.

How has reading played a role in your life?

Reading has been so much a part of my life that I cannot imagine doing without it. It has been my source of learning, enrichment and curiosity. In all my life experiences, reading was vital. In my professional life reading added to my skills and helped me to become a more effective employee. And there is nothing quite like a good book for a leisure companion!

What changes have you seen when children or adults start reading?

Eyes light up!! They experience excitement knowing that they can learn to read. There is a spark that stimulates their appetite for learning, to find words they know and to seek out other words to learn. It’s a transformation that happens over time. It literally opens a door on a wider world. The very act of a parent wanting to become literate changes the focus of the family.

Students become empowered to make decisions for their lives. Some of that same empowerment comes to our English-as-a second-language-students. They are often literate in their native language but do not speak and/or understand English. They need reading and writing, but it also helps in bridging cultural differences. As they gain skills in communicating they participate more fully in the life of our community.

How can people get involved?

Literacy Action of Central Arkansas works with adults in two areas, Adult Basic Literacy (ABL) and English as a Second Language (ESL); however, programs now under consideration will focus on serving families. Literacy is a family affair.

The 8th annual Shine a Light on Literacy event will take place on Friday, Sept. 29, at Next Level Events in the Historic Train Station from 6 - 8 p.m.
For tickets, e-mail Sara Drew or call 501.372.7323 for more information.

By contacting the Literacy Action Council of Arkansas at 501.372.7323 or our Conway office at 501.329.7323 you can become involved as a tutor for literacy, or with special events or as a donor. Contributions are always needed. More information is available on our website LiteracyActionAR.org. Consider this our special invitation for you to join us.

The need is real. Over 145,000 persons in our seven-county area alone cannot read. Literacy Action always has students waiting. What they wait for is the commitment of volunteers who will help them explore the essential and wonderful world of reading! You could make a difference.