Helen Rozneck, a 67-year-old hearing-impaired woman, wanted to learn how to read.
Both Grand Haven residents participate in the Reading Enables Adult Development program that serves Northwest Ottawa County.
The R.E.A.D. program was launched four years ago in an effort to provide area adults with reading deficiencies the opportunities to strengthen their reading and language skills. Volunteers are recruited to tutor these adults.
According to Sherry Mitchell, the program's part-time literacy director, 22,000 adults (according to the 2010 Census) in Ottawa County cannot read a simple grocery list, read to a child or read a prescription label.
Khadka and Rozneck are among the 70 adults who have been helped by R.E.A.D. But many of the adults who can’t read are reluctant to get help.
“People who need our service are silent and very skilled at hiding their illiteracy,” Mitchell said. “We’re here to help them.”
Khadka and Rozneck were not hesitant about learning how to read and learning to develop better language skills.
Khadka came to the United States in 2012 with her family. She is striving to become an American citizen and provide an income for her family. She was put in touch with volunteer tutor Mary Willink, and they bonded immediately.
Khadka began her quest to improve her skills through an English as a Second Language class at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Grand Haven.
Willink has helped Khadka polish her writing and pronunciation skills.
“She was very motivated and a wonderful student,” Willink said.
Khadka now has a job and is in the process of obtaining a GED. She would like to go to college and perhaps become a teacher.
“She has the desire and tools, “Willink said.
Rozneck wanted to learn how read, but she didn’t want her instructor to pinch her — as a teacher did when she was very young.
Rozneck was 8 years old when it was discovered that she was hearing impaired. The teacher who pinched her when she failed to understand her instructions didn’t know Rozneck couldn’t hear.
Despite her hearing difficulties, Rozneck managed to complete her education, get married and raise two children. But she never learned to read.
Rozneck’s daughter recently put her in touch with R.E.A.D. and Rozneck was matched with Penny Smits, a retired speech pathologist. They also bonded immediately.
“There are a lot of things she can do now that she couldn’t do before,” Smits said. “She has been working hard.”
Smits said Rozneck has jumped from a first-grade reading level to fourth grade.
One of Rozneck’s goals is to be able to read the Grand Haven Tribune. Some words still stump her, so Rozneck will Google it so that she can see the photograph that goes with the word.
For example, she didn’t know what the word "pier" meant until she saw a picture of it.
Smits said Rozneck is progressing well in her endeavor to learn how to read and to improve her pronunciation of words.
Both Khadka and Rozneck say they want people to know that they shouldn’t be embarrassed if they can’t read. The R.E.A.D. volunteers are eager to provide help for adults who can’t read or have difficulty reading.
“It is never too late to get help with reading,” Rozneck said. “Don’t be embarrassed — just go for it. You can learn.”
Mitchell said it is important for adults with reading deficiencies to get help — especially if they lost a job, want to obtain a GED or are in need of help with their immigration status.
“R.E.A.D.’s mission is to provide adults in North Ottawa County and the surrounding area with an opportunity to improve and transform their lives by strengthening their reading and language fluency,” Mitchell said.
The program is funded through grants from the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation. R.E.A.D. also receives funding from the Board Family Fund, Spring Lake Rotary Club and First Presbyterian Church in Grand Haven women’s group, and numerous contributions from the private sector.
Until recently, R.E.A.D. was an all-volunteer organization. The Board of Directors, however, determined that a part-time literacy director was needed. Mitchell was hired to that post. Her job is to seek additional grants and funding for the program.
The R.E.A.D. Board of Directors are Paul McNergney, Nancy Carlyle, Marilyn Reichardt, Amy VanOordt, Sue Buitenhuis, John Martin and Tom Hicks.
Adults who are interested in learning more about the reading program can call 616-843-1470, e-mail info@readadultliteracy or visit the organization’s website at readadultliteracy.com. Information is also available at the Loutit and Spring Lake district libraries.