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Way to go District 60! NOT!
Great-grandmother named literacy tutor of year
Volunteer still teaching adults after 22 years

May 4, 2009
By RYAN PAGELOW <!-- e --><a href=""></a><!-- e -->

Victor Vargas, 18, of Waukegan wants to work in construction. But before he can get out of his temp job working in a pizza packaging factory and into a construction job, he needs a GED and a driver's license. And before he can get a GED and pass a written test to get his driver's license, he has to learn how to read.

Somehow he was passed up through the grades with his limited reading skills until he reached Waukegan High School. Never having graduated, he relies on his girlfriend to read things for him. But he's trying to change that.

For the past year, he's been going to the Adult Learning and Technology Center in Waukegan once a week for two hours to work on recognizing and sounding out syllables that make up words.

» Click to enlarge image
Ann Hamlin, 75, of Lake Bluff has been named Tutor of the Year by the Literacy Volunteers of Illinois.
(Thomas Delany Jr./News-Sun)

"I just want to learn how to read. It sucks if you don't know," he said.

He works one-on-one with volunteer tutor Ann Hamlin of Lake Bluff. Hamlin has volunteered one day a week as a tutor for more than 20 years, and in March she was named Tutor of the Year by the Literacy Volunteers of Illinois.

Currently, Hamlin is tutoring four students, including Vargas. The others include a recovering drug and alcohol addict, a single mother and a 50-year-old who has a high school diploma and has worked for 30 years.

Hamlin, an avid reader and 75-year-old great-grandmother, got interested in helping adults learn to read after finding out the staggering number of adults who are illiterate.

About 13 percent of Lake County adults are unable to sign their own name or are unable to locate the expiration date on a driver's license or total a bank deposit entry, according to a 2004 United Way of Lake County community needs assessment.

Hamlin works mostly with adults with very low-level reading skills who may also have learning disabilities. She mentioned one student she had for 11 years whose IQ was "off the wall," but he couldn't read because of dyslexia.

"Basically, what you're doing for them is you're creating self-esteem," Hamlin said. "They feel that they can't read, that they're little people in society."

Illiteracy can be tough financially on an adult because only low-skilled jobs are open to them, and they may also be in a co-dependent relationship with someone who reads for them. Many hide their illiteracy and develop coping skills to protect their secret.

"It takes tons of guts to come forward and learn how to read," she said.

Since first volunteering as a tutor in 1987, she has had 32 students. One of them went on to take a course at the College of Lake County after a year and got an A in a criminal justice course, Hamlin said.

"When I started, there were no materials for adults. You had to take children's materials and adapt them to adults. Now publishers are putting stuff out like crazy," she said.

Hamlin, a retired cost price analyst for Army advertising contracts, plans to continue volunteering from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. one day a week as long as she can.

"When students catch on to something and look up at you and smile, you think, okay, I can keep doing this," she said.
Tutor training

There are about 100 volunteer tutors at more than 25 sites in Lake County, including libraries, churches, hospitals and the Lake County Jail.

For more information about becoming a volunteer basic reading tutor, contact Barbara Babb at Waukegan Public Library at (847) 623-2041, ext. 222, or Laura Sherwood at the College of Lake County at (847) 543-2327.

To help someone learn to speak English, contact Sari Oosta at (847) 543-2317.

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