Literacy is more than just a useful skill. The United
Nations qualifies adult literacy as a basic human right,
without which one cannot function in society. “You
can’t talk to your neighbors about issues, can’t read
the paper, can’t read a bus schedule, or any of these things
we often take for granted without even the very basic level
of communication,” said executive director of the Whatcom
Literacy Council Katherine Freimund. The nonprofit
organization provides resources and instruction for adults
seeking to improve their communication and literacy skills.

The council relies on community volunteers to teach
classes, tutor students, and create lesson plans. After
completing their teaching training, lead by the qualified
program coordinators, volunteers can work one-on-one with
students, assist instructors at Whatcom Community College
or Bellingham Technical College, and orchestrate small group
classes. Last year, 818 students met their personal goals with
the help of more than 100 volunteers.

In Whatcom County, one out of every six adults is
considered to be functionally illiterate. These adults cannot
read the bus schedule, read medical prescriptions, or fill out
a job application. The key to success at the literacy council is
allowing students to map out their own goals, Freimund said.
“We don’t tell them what they ought to learn. They tell us
what they want to do.” Goals can be anything from passing
the written driving test in order to get a license to improving
literacy skills enough to begin college classes.

After mapping out a student’s goals, volunteers, with
the help of program coordinators, create lesson plans for
bi-weekly, hour-long tutoring sessions. All the meetings take
place in accessible, public locations for the convenience of
the students. It is essential that the lessons work around the
students’ schedules because these adults often have serious
obstacles preventing them from achieving an education.
Students might have children, multiple jobs, or lack access
to transportation. “Even if they are motivated to improve
literacy skills there are barriers. If our services cost even
just a little bit, they would not be able to take advantage
of them.”

There is still a huge need in greater Whatcom County
for literacy programs. Ideally, she said she would like the
programs to reach adults outside of Bellingham in places
with less resources like Blaine and Lynden. “We are working
hard to reach out to volunteers and establish sort of advocacy
groups in those areas that can help us know the needs of
the communities.”

Whatcom Literacy Council will host best-selling author
Nancy Pearl at their annual Literacy Breakfast fundraiser
on Thursday, Nov., 3 from 7:15–9 a.m. in Bellingham
Technical College’s Settlemyer Hall. Pearl will offer reading
recommendations while breakfast is served. Although there is
no charge for breakfast, a donation is requested.

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"In Whatcom County, one out of every six adults is considered functionally illiterate. "