Since its opening on Feb. 27, the Turlock Gospel Mission Homeless Assistance Ministry has provided the homeless a safe place to go during the day and a variety of social services. Thanks to the Turlock Rotary Club, the H.A.M. center will soon offer literacy and GED test tutoring.
The Rotary Club recently donated six computers to the H.A.M. center, providing the modern tools needed for the Stanislaus Literacy Center to offer General Education Development test preparation and basic reading tutoring through its ReadingWorks Adult Literacy program.
"Our goal is to have projects that bring together lots of organizations," said Rotary President Ron Hillberg, who originally approached the H.A.M. center looking for any needs.
The computers allow ReadingWorks volunteers to access literacy and GED test preparation curriculum and save work individual students complete. Literacy services are something that is needed at the homeless center, said Turlock Gospel Mission executive director, Pastor Tim Guerino.
"We've evaluated here 12 to 14 of our guests who are waiting for it to go online — once up and online, it will be open to others," Guerino said of the literacy program.
Having another site available for literacy tutoring is a step in the right direction, according to Karen Williams, executive director of the Stanislaus Literacy Center.
"I think the county is probably more challenged than most places in the country," Williams said.
A 2003 assessment of adult literacy by the National Center for Education Statistics found 21 percent of Stanislaus County residents lacked basic prose literacy skills. A more telling statistic, however, may be a late 1990s survey done locally that surveyed 1,000 workers and those seeking employment, said Williams. That survey found 26 percent were at a 4th grade reading level and 25 percent were at a 4th to 7th grade reading level.
Without basic reading skills, life can be tough. As the economy has worsened and more people are competing for fewer jobs, Williams said she has seen an increase in employers requiring skills testing before hiring.
"The economy is really driving the need we're seeing," Williams said. "Many can't get a job or keep a job because their reading skills are too low."
The down economy — and tough government budget cuts — has also created a larger need for organizations to offer literacy services.
"We're having to expand because school districts have abandoned adult education, for the most part," said Williams.
In the late 1990s, the literacy center had 50 volunteer tutors and 50 adult students. Last year, the Stanislaus Literacy Center served 1,400 people through individual tutoring, family literacy programs and GED prep classes. In Turlock, the literacy center tutored 70 students for the GED test in 2011.
The need continues, as 40 students from around the county are waiting to be matched with a reading tutor.
The Stanislaus Literacy Center is seeking people interested in volunteering their time to help others learn to read. The next new tutor orientation and training will be held Nov. 7 and 10 at the ReadingWorks Learning Center, 1032 11th St. or on the corner of 11th and K Streets in Modesto. The orientation is on Nov. 7 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and provides a program overview and goes over the expectations of being a volunteer tutor. The training is on Nov. 10 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and instructs tutors how to teach an adult and how to use the curriculum provided to students and tutors free of charge. There is a $10 materials fee for the training manual, but this can be waived upon request. To reserve a place at the training or for more information about becoming a tutor, call Natalie or Kelly at 558-4505.