Hawaii adult literacy program seeks more students

LIHUE — Kauai Adult Literacy Coordinator Dennis Dresser said the ongoing challenge at the Hawaii Literacy Program is finding a balance of students and tutors.

“The system doesn’t work if I don’t,” he said.

Not enough tutors means lost students. And without students, tutors tend to walk away.

The latter is the situation Dresser faces today, with just 13 students for 17 tutors.

“I need students really badly,” he said.

When it comes to finding students, however, Dresser faces a different hurdle — many of them can’t read. For that reason, he is trying to tap into families, friends and neighbors who can read and know someone who is struggling. His hope is that those individuals will encourage others to get help.

“They’re out there,” he said of struggling adults. “I’m tapping the sources that I can tap, but there are sources out there … that see these people that I don’t have any access to.”

In Hawaii, one in six adults have problems in reading and writing, including nearly 5,600 on Kauai, according to Hawaii Literacy.

Founded in 1971, the program is a volunteer-driven organization that has helped thousands of adults learn the basic reading and writing skills to get better jobs, improve their parenting skills and succeed in life.

The tutor sessions are free and students are carefully matched with nationally certified tutors. The only cost involved is purchasing a book, which is used for  six months.

“If the students cannot afford the book, then I usually pay for it,” Dresser said.

The program is open to adults ages 18 and up, and past students have come from all over the world, including China, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan and the Marshall Islands, according to Dresser.

Sessions are flexible and built to fit the student’s schedule and location. Learning materials are selected to meet the particular learning ability of each student.

There are no mandatory completion dates, and the program is designed to meet the student’s personal goals.

“You take them only as fast as they’ll go,” Dresser said. “We stay with them as long as we can help them, as long as they want us to.”

Today, 75 percent of unemployed adults have reading and writing difficulties, and 43 percent of people with the lowest literacy skills live in poverty.

Dresser said there is a “spiel” he likes to give his students. First, throughout the United States and the world, most business operates on English. And,  secondly, if you can speak English fluently and write it, you can get good jobs, he said.

“If you want to sweep out gutters, mow lawns and haul trash, that’s one thing. If you want a job where you can make some money and get some benefits or even go into your own business, then you need to be able to read and write English.”

Dresser, 82, said the program is his way of giving back to the community. And he doesn’t get paid a dime for it.

“This job is a 16- or 18-hour-a-day job, seven days a week,” he said. “And I love every bit of it, because I see what we can do to help people.”

Those interested in the program or who want to enroll in classes, can contact Dennis Dresser at islandvision@hawaii.rr.com or 332-5544.

For additional information visit www.hawaiiliteracy.org/programs/kauai/.

• Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cdangelo@thegardenisland.com.

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