Love of Literacy luncheon celebrates volunteer tutors

With patience and quiet resolve, the volunteer tutors of Literacy Services of Indian River County help provide a sense of independence and pride to adult students seeking to improve their reading, communication and writing skills. Students from foreign countries hope to improve their English, while others are the forgotten 20 percent of the population who are functionally illiterate.

Their stories of literacy development were celebrated at last Friday’s Love of Literacy luncheon at the Vero Beach Country Club, applauding the determination of 327 students from 33 different countries this past year, and the dedication of volunteer tutors who provided 7,600 hours of instruction.

Literacy Services is the only organization in the county teaching adult literacy, and does so without any government funding. The organization relies solely on grants, donations and fundraisers such as the sold-out luncheon, co-chaired by board member Evelyn Mayerson, and Fran Mellett.

Board president Don Mann recognized the passion and direction provided by Executive Director Mary Silva, and noted that this past fiscal year was its best to date. He added that thanks to Suzie and Jeff Gomez the organization will soon have a Tutor Training Resource Center.

Mann presented the Barbara Levere Outstanding Service Award in absentia to Marianne Mannino, recognizing more than 10 years of service as a tutor, and her chairmanship of the 2013 Family Holiday Fest.

Silva presented the Nat Jackson Award, the organization’s highest honor, to Don and Sandy Mann for their unstinting support, noting, “I have had so many people say, ‘Where would you be without this couple?’”

The Manns both became tutors after attending a 2006 training workshop. Don has been a board member since 2009, becoming president in 2013. They have been hugely instrumental in securing funding, volunteers and awareness.

Two ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) Student of the Year Awards were presented. Since improving her English skills, Hungarian-born Erika Boter, whose tutor is Cynthia Hurst, registered for classes at Indian River State College and hopes to soon become a U.S. citizen. Martha Peralta, aided by tutor Kent Jones, has since been promoted to a management position at work and is studying cyber security at IRSC with a 3.5 GPA.

Two Literacy Student of the Year awards were also presented – the first to Korean-born Susan Popovites, whose tutor is Janet Amos. Although able to speak English, she couldn’t read the language, but now feels a sense of independence through literacy. Sam Bristol, whose tutor is Merry Parent, was unable to read simple sentences, but is now a deacon at his church and can read aloud to his Bible study class.

Mayerson introduced the guest speaker, saying of her friend and fellow-Windsor resident, “Cynthia Bardes is now working on a third book, Pansy in Venice. I wonder if we might someday have Pansy in Vero?” noting the two previous titles, Pansy at the Palace and Pansy in Paris.

Bardes shared her four-year journey, from dress and interior designer to children’s book author, which began quite literally by accident as she recuperated at the Beverly Hills hotel after being struck by a car. Her toy poodle Pansy and granddaughter Avery became the adorable subjects of the self-published books.

“It’s possibly the most interesting business and creative process I’ve ever had. It takes perseverance and work,” said Bardes, noting that she learned the “hard facts of children’s books” through trial and error and a little luck. “I can’t believe how serendipitous everything was. Each day something wonderful happened.”

Bardes credited much of the success to her illustrator, adding, “None of this would have happened without Virginia Ginger Best!”

Of Literacy Services, she said, “The integrity and simplicity is that the student gets to tell the tutor what he or she needs. Think of the fear and shame of illiterate adults. Let’s all help Mary Silva and this fantastic organization help adults to help themselves with literacy.”

Silva stressed the importance of adult literacy, noting that a child’s academic success is tied into the literacy skills of the caregiver, and that adult literacy is the key to combating generational illiteracy.

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