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If you're reading this, congratulations: Someone taught you the squiggles are letters and together they can form words and, lined up in a row, they become a sentence you can read.

Not everyone is so lucky. Whether they learned English as a subsequent language, whether their teachers or parents didn't push hard enough, whether a learning disability kept them from progressing easily, the ability to use words and symbols in written form is something not all adults can do. Illinois is believed to have almost 2 million adults who can't read or write. 

But there's help.

The STAR (Sharing The Ability to Read) Adult Literacy program works with adults of all ages and backgrounds to help them learn reading, language and math skills. It happens with the help of one-on-one tutors who listen and encourage people reading aloud, learning to write and balancing their checkbooks. The tutors are not professionals; rather, although they are trained, they are everyday people of all backgrounds who want to share their time to help others.

The program, however, is short on those volunteers and the list is long of people who want help. At present, there are 44 volunteers for 49 people, with more students expected.

Literacy, or its lack, affects not just the individual but the local economy and government budgets. If you can't read easily, it's harder to find a good-paying job and you may need more government assistance for food, insurance and housing. The National Institute for Literacy, in a 1998 report, said 43 percent of people with the lowest level of literacy lived in poverty, compared to 4 percent of those with the highest level of literacy. The report also said seven in 10 prisoners generally were among the less literate.

STAR tutors are required to do 15 hours of training — the next session is Oct. 14 in downtown Bloomington — and spend at least two hours a week, of their choosing, working with students at one of more than a dozen public facilities across the Twin Cities, Derek Beigh reported last week. In addition to the training, STAR provides online links to a variety of source material for all ability levels.

Tutors need only be 18 years old and hold a high school diploma or a GED certificate. Register for training by leaving a message at 309-834-9222, or filling out an application at

STAR Adult Literacy is run with help of state funds as part of the Regional Office of Education for DeWitt, Livingston, Logan and McLean counties. It also receives money from fundraisers and community donations. If you or someone you know needs help with basic language and math skills, call 309-834-9222 to set up a tutoring session.



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