Birmingham – The Literacy Council of Central Alabama
If you love reading, you understand the tremendous gift The Literacy Council brings to people like Roy DeBardeleben. There are more than 92,000 illiterate adults in central Alabama. Until recently, DeBardeleben would have counted himself among them. Able to read or not, he got by.
“I always wanted to read the Bible better. I didn’t want to stand up and talk about what I didn’t know about.” Being authentic is important to DeBardeleben, who, along with his wife, runs the Resurrection of Life Ministry in Birmingham.
DeBardeleben grew up in church and had just about memorized the Bible. That’s how he got by. But, at 60 years of age, he still couldn’t read it for himself.
“I just got left out of learning. My mom had to raise her siblings, and she didn’t have time for me.”
Retired as a heavy equipment operator for Jefferson County, DeBardeleben relied on “a lot of good friends to help along the way, doing my reports and stuff like that.”
So, when his wife walked into a library last year and saw notices for classes with The Literacy Council of Central Alabama, she knew it could be transformative for her husband. After some coaxing, she was able to get DeBardeleben to visit. Andrea Oliver remembers meeting him.
“I always ask the learner what it is they want to learn to read, because there’s a wide choice of literature out there,” said Oliver, a tutor for The Literacy Council.
“Roy said he wanted to read the Bible, and he wanted to use the King James version. I said, ‘Whoa, that’s the hardest version of English that I know of.’ It took us about three weeks to agree to a version of the Bible we could work with.”
It was still a challenge. DeBardeleben set the bar high for himself. Oliver wanted to start with Psalms because, “The psalms are poems, and the language is a little easier.” That wasn’t good enough for DeBardeleben. He wanted to start with Genesis.
“I told him, ‘You make me work too hard!’ ” she said with a laugh. Yet, DeBardeleben has done so well with the program he’s gotten his 76-year-old mother involved. Now, she’s taking lessons at The Literacy Council.
“She saw what I was doing and wanted to learn more too,” he said. “I love being able to help her and to help other people.”
The adult literacy classes – taught one-on-one or in small groups by trained volunteers – are only part of what The Literacy Council is all about. Services offered in Blount, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Walker counties include family literacy programs, which help parents engage their children; and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes. Former student Paula Rangel has moved up through the ranks and is coordinating the council’s ESOL programs and 17 classes.
Rangel moved to the U.S. three years ago to work with a company that provides parts to Mercedes-Benz. While she was a student of psychology and had worked for more than a decade in human resources in Mexico, she still lacked command of the English language.
“I spoke a little English in college and high school,” Rangel said. “But it’s very different when you live here.”
The Literacy Council’s mission is simple: Improve the lives of adults and their families by teaching them to read, write and speak English.
“Literacy is so important and has an impact on everything we do,” said Katrina Watson, president and executive director of The Literacy Council.
“It impacts a person’s education, their financial stability, their health, their ability to get and keep a job. These are such great things that come from literacy.”
And when it comes to the effect of literacy on one’s job, The Literacy Council is giving a whole new meaning to “on-the-job training.” New to The Literacy Council this year is a workplace literacy effort.
“We’re taking our mission to the workplace,” Watson explains. “We tailor each workplace literacy program to the company where we are.”
With the help of the Alabama Power Foundation, The Literacy Council is also improving its service through technology by using data management software to help tell its stories.
“With better data management, we can capture the stories of the people we serve and document the impact we’re having,” Watson said. “It will give us more measurable data and outcomes.”
From those who are learning English for the first time, to those, like DeBardeleben, who simply “got left out of learning,” The Literacy Council helps those who struggle gain access to a world they’ve been missing – a world of treasured books, fulfilling employment, and personal pride.