Ruth Tureckova is executive director for Literacy Volunteers of Washington County. Prior to joining the nonprofit in this capacity, she volunteered here for 13 years and also worked as a database and Microsoft Office software trainer of staff in other nonprofit organizations. Having worked in Australia and Japan, she has also worked as a fund raiser, events coordinator and alumni relations director for a graduate school in the U.S. and most recently part-time for The Westerly Hospital Foundation in a similar capacity. She lives in Westerly with her husband and two of three children. A third daughter lives in Florida.
PBN: You are multilingual and have taught English as a second language in Japan. How has that informed your approach to guiding Literacy Volunteers?
TURECKOVA: I wish I could still say I’m multilingual, but as they say, if you don’t use it, you lose it. My seven plus years living and teaching in Japan has helped me to understand how it feels to be illiterate. I went to Japan with a Japanese vocabulary of about eleven words and one of those was incorrect. Language is not the only barrier for new immigrants. I have learned through experience, how important it is to understand the culture in which you live. Thus I am able to guide our volunteer tutors to help adult English as Second Language learners with both of these aspects of life, as they strive to become active, integrated members of our community.
In the past year I’ve been very fortunate to meet some extraordinary local adults who receive adult basic education through Literacy Volunteers of Washington County. They have helped me, as well as our staff and tutors, to understand how they have struggled as working adults with limited literacy skills. They have also shown us all how transformational becoming literate can be.
PBN: What is your organization’s biggest claim to fame – your most critical success story?
TURECKOVA: There have been so many success stories in the 31 years Literacy Volunteers has been helping adults in Washington County. I’m not sure how to judge one success over another. My first day at Literacy Volunteers, I overhead a participant profusely thanking her tutor because for the first time she had been able to understand her pharmacist and read and understand the labels on her medicine. Last night, one of our learners, Carmen came in to thank her citizenship tutor for all the help she received to pass her citizenship interview. One 50-year-old, basic education adult, who began learning to read in September, recently spoke of the “world of words that is exploding” around him: about how wonderful it was to be able to follow the written directions to a doctor’s office. Last year, an English as a Second Language learner moved the equivalent of 6 grade levels, obtained her adult high school diploma, entered full-time employment and bought a home. These are all critical success stories.
PBN: What would you say to doubters who don’t believe illiteracy can be conquered?
TURECKOVA: I would ask them to sit in on a tutor session with Mario and Eve. Not only will they be astounded by the progress that has been made in a year, but they will be entertained by the wonderful banter they hear between an enthusiastic adult learner and his caring tutor.
PBN: What are the most practical applications to people’s lives that reading enables?
TURECKOVA: For an adult learner to get the most out of a tutoring session, the materials they use need to be relevant, authentic and at the right level. Filling out a form at a doctor’s office or school can be a daunting prospect if you have difficulty reading or writing. With this in mind, our tutors help improve many aspects of literacy: reading, writing, speaking English, improving math skills, as well as enhancing financial and computer literacy. Our adult learners use their improved literacy skills in every aspect of their lives: at work, at home, in the community, in educational settings.
PBN: What is the most challenging aspect of running a nonprofit staffed chiefly by volunteer tutors?
TURECKOVA: As in any non-profit organization, the biggest challenge is finding the money to keep the doors open and lights on. Fortunately, to offset that challenge, we have a tremendous resource in our diverse and ever-expanding group of volunteer tutors. Last year, we had 135 adult learners and 65 active tutors. The biggest staffing challenge is matching tutor and learner availability. Both tutors and learners have very busy schedules. As active adults, both fulfill roles such as: parent, spouse, employee, sibling, caregiver, organization member, driver, friend, cleaner, cook, breadwinner, tutor and so many more. With this in mind it can sometimes be difficult to find times to meet. We always have more adults seeking literacy assistance than available tutors.
PBN: What books do you consider required reading for people learning to read?
TURECKOVA: There are many wonderful textbooks designed to help adults gain the real-life literacy skills they need to survive and thrive in our community. One “book” that has recently expanded learning opportunities for many adult learners is an e-reader. You can be reading Dick and Jane on an e-reader and no one need know you are struggling to improve your literacy. E-readers have the added advantage of containing a dictionary and the ability to increase font size at the touch of a button. This past month we received a donation to purchase what we hope to be our first of many e-readers.