KANSAS CITY, Missouri - The ability to read is one the most essential life skills, but thousands and thousands of adults in the Kansas City area can't read. Christina Jones knows that all too well.
"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…"
Psalm 23 is Christina's favorite scripture from the bible. She reads it with ease off of a computer screen. While that might be a simple act for many, it is a huge accomplishment for Christina. Just two years ago, she didn't know how to use a computer. More importantly, she could barely read.
"You feel embarrassed," Christina explains. "You don't want anyone to know that you can't spell or you can't read, and you try to keep it a secret."
Christina kept her secret for years. She battled dyslexia all her life and never finished high school. She was one of the 225,000 adults in the Kansas City area who read below average or who can't read at all. In many cases, it's a generational issue, according to Literacy Kansas City's board president Marilou Joyner.
"So if parents aren't reading, children aren't reading," Joyner says. "And if children aren't reading or being read to before they go to school, their ability to succeed in school can be limited."
Joyner says adults can often hide their reading disability, but that can hurt their ability to find a good paying job.
"When it really catches up with them is, for example, if they go to take a test that is needed to improve their job, or a test to even get a job, and they can't read the material. That's when it really impacts them."
For 26-years, Literacy Kansas City has been teaching adults to read. They match students with a volunteer tutor. They meet for 90-minutes, twice a week. Over time, the results are life-changing.
Peter Hendrixson has been involved with the program since 2002, first as a tutor and now s a tutor trainer. He says teaching someone to read might sound intimidating at first, but the results are rewarding.
"I had no experience as a tutor, but they did a wonderful job at the program in making it easy for us. They give us all the training we need."
Hendrixson worked with his student, Al, for several years."
"With Al, I could see his enthusiasm and his confidence growing almost on a weekly basis," Hendrixson said. "Every time we got together, he was just happier. He was becoming involved with more things."
Hendrixson says as Al mastered reading, he was able to tackle advanced licensing tests for his job and substantially increase his pay.
Christina decided it was her turn to learn after her two sons graduated and moved on with their lives.
"In 2007, I went to see a show," she said. "And I saw a movie called ‘The Great Debaters.' And I was so inspired by how well they spoke, and I was just thinking ‘Why not me?'"
She turned to Literacy Kansas City and within a few years she was reading on her own. At 58-years old, she also just passed her GED. Now she hopes others will come forward like she did.
"I want them to know that they're not alone. That there's many people out there in the same situation. But you don't have to remain in the darkness, because we have this great program - Literacy Kansas City."
Christina says when you can read, you can do anything. Even look up scripture on a computer search engine.
"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
Christina's smile says it all.
"I'm reading you the 23rd Psalm!"
Literacy Kansas City currently has a waiting list of adults who want to learn to read. There is always a need for more volunteers to both tutor and help in other areas of the program.
For more information about their work, call (816) 333 – 9332 or visit www.literacykc.org .