Thursday, November 10, 2005

Literacy Council celebrates 25th year

Staff Writer

The Marshall County Literacy Council has held on for 25 years teaching basic skills in reading, writing and math and GED preparation.

Circuit clerk Lucy Carpenter shared some information about the early beginnings and awareness of the need for literacy.

“I had so many people who couldn’t complete their jury questionnaires,” Carpenter said. “One man was married to a foreigner and she could speak English but not much else. He was on the jury and we talked about the need. We contacted people at Holy Family and they were very interested.

“Also, Alice Dunnegan, wife of Ben Dunnegan, and my minister, was interested. I worked with it for several years and we were successful in getting volunteer teachers to help. It went from there.”

When first organized, the literacy program held classes in the Marshall County Library, according to Leona Harris. When that space became inadequate, the council asked the late Mayor Eddie Lee Smith to lease the house on Spring Street where it has remained operational for nearly 15 years. Harris, an instructor who has worked as a literacy volunteer for the entire 25 years in some capacity, served as president for eight years. She also teaches literacy classes to Marshall County inmates.

Sr. Mary Monica Boll SCN has also been with the organization as a literacy volunteer, tutor and teacher trainer for 25 years. Boll was influential in integrating the literacy program with the GED program at Northwest Community College. The center served as a sort of satellite facility for Northwest and some literacy teachers taught under contract with the college.

The Literacy Council uses trained tutors to teach adult basic education classes, GED preparation and family literacy both in individual and group settings. Classes are available from Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. and during the evening by appointment. Evening classes are offered on Tuesday and Thursday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.


The Marshall County Literacy Council was organized in October 1980 as an affiliate of Laubach Literacy Action. The group was led by Lucy Carpenter and James McDaniel. Trained tutors in the early years were Leona Harris and three Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Kentucky volunteers, Joseph Beatrice Eyl, Francis Rita Ballard and Boll.

The Memphis Literacy Council helped with literacy tutor training and individual tutoring during the first five years of operation. Then, in 1985 the Council received a training and materials grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission with help from the Marshall County Library and the Oxford Literacy Council.

Evening classes for adults were taught at the Holly Springs Primary School through a program offered by Northwest Community College by 1985.

The Council received a grant to hire a part-time coordinator and expand services from 1989-1996.

Then in March 1992, Marshall County Literacy Council helped form the North Mississippi Literacy Alliance, comprising organizations such as literacy councils, Head Start programs and Northwest Community College literacy programs.

The Marshall County Literacy Council was chartered in August 1992 under the leadership of Harris and Boll.

And in September that year the local Council joined in Operation Liftoff, a statewide campaign to sign up students and train tutors. Over 300 students signed up and 45 people volunteered for tutor training. Learning materials, including GED guidebooks and basic reading skills books were provided by Christian Broadcasting Company and Dr. Pat Robinson.

The late Mayor Smith and the Holly Springs Board of Aldermen leased the current literacy house to the Council in 1993 while the Marshall County Board of Supervisors provided $300 monthly to help with utility bills and other operating costs.

An advisory board was formed that same year, the council obtained tax-exempt status and Project LEAP, a pilot literacy project funded through Ole Miss was brought in.

A board of directors was formed in 1994 and a permanent charter was obtained.

The Council collaborates with the Marshall County Library to provide computer assisted GED testing practice for today’s learners.

David Stratmon is current president of the Council.

Over the years the Literacy Council has been supported generously by community businesses, banks, churches, schools, civic groups, local governments, community agencies, by individuals and by the many volunteers who have helped with tutoring and fundraising.

The Literacy Council will hold its annual Christmas cookie and bake sale in mid-December. Call the literacy office at 662-252-2687 to volunteer to bake cookies or to help sell and distribute them to friends and associates.

To become a trained tutor, a volunteer, or to enroll in a class, call 252-2687.

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