- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 5, 2004

D.C. officials and literacy advocates yesterday kicked off a program to improve the low adult literacy rate in the District, where one in three residents reads at or below a third-grade level.

Officials will spend $20 million on the three-year program called the “Lifelong Learning Initiative” that will offer classes to teach reading and writing, computer skills and other job training. The goal is to help improve the lives of at least 10,000 city residents.

“There’s such a need,” said Sonia Gutierrez, executive director of the Carlos Rosario International Learning Center in Northwest, which is one of several facilities that will take part in the effort. “The bottom line is, if parents can’t read and write, how can they help their children with homework? … With literacy, a whole new world opens up to them.”

About 100 people turned out for yesterday’s ceremony to kick off the program. Most of them wore turquoise and white T-shirts, which had the slogan “Read this out loud because there’s a chance someone close to you can’t.”

The initiative is a collaborative effort among the D.C. mayor’s office, the State Education Office and a group of corporate and philanthropic organizations. Washington Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan also attended the event.

Neil Albert, the city’s deputy mayor for children, youth, families and elders, said the event helps the city focus on the value of learning and literacy.

“I think we all know the importance of this initiative. … There are some dire statistics on literacy in the District,” Mr. Albert said. “The libraries can’t do it alone. The State Education Office can’t do it alone. We are all ambassadors. So, today we start on an ambitious goal of helping 10,000 residents.”

Lifelong Learning student Todd Carroll, 23, of Northwest said his No. 1 goal in life is getting his high school equivalency diploma. He said after the ceremony he will sign up to take his GED so he could live “the American dream.”

“For the last four years, I’ve had odd jobs,” Mr. Carroll said. “Living paycheck to paycheck and last year, it became obvious to me that would not support my dreams.”

Also yesterday, organizers kicked off a new public service campaign called “Read Out Loud,” which is designed to provide adults with information about low-cost and free services available at Lifelong Learning centers. Literacy advocates, volunteers and partner organizations flooded seven Metro stations yesterday to get the word out by distributing fliers and learning tools.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams could not attend because he was dealing with homeland security, Mr. Albert said.

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