A powerful group joined Lawrence Literacy Works at the Clemente Abascal Community Room to discuss ideas for the formation of a Vision for Literacy in Lawrence. Representatives from organization dealing with education and literacy, as well as small businesses, not-so-small business, newspapers, civil servants, legislators, community-based organizations, faith-based organization, health care, higher education, etc. came to share their observations.
The attendees were asked, “How does the literacy issue in Lawrence affect you, your business, your family, your community?” Then, they broke up into five groups to brainstorm and the result would become their five-year strategic plan for literacy.
The groups complained about the difficulties in the delivery of information to the Spanish-speaking community; whether acquiring it over the telephone, the inability to participate in community events and particularly, the lack of information affects the development of their children’s education. Parents are not participating in their children’s school and community activities because of lack of English.
Regarding the high unemployment rate in the city (14.5%), it was stated, to our surprise, that there are jobs available in Lawrence, but it was quickly clarified that literacy problems is the main reason preventing access to jobs and training. Although the Workforce Investment Board has monies available, people cannot be placed in jobs or trainings because they have to demonstrate English proficiency. This becomes more difficult when the individual has deficiency in his or her native language.
The groups discussed the social effect of literacy and language. What makes Literacy in Lawrence unique to other urban areas with a high ethnic influx is that the pool of immigrants is constantly being replenished and literate upward mobile immigrants move out of Lawrence and into surrounding areas.
The business community is affected because literate people earn more, spend more, have greater stability and as a result of that, read newspapers and buy from advertisers.
Literate people help their children in school, help parents to advocate for children, are more referable for employment training and literacy draws people together.
There were no solutions but a greater understanding of the problem and the services available to the residents. Lawrence Literacy Works will now join these resources to make them more accessible to the public and thus reduce the waiting lists plaguing our city.