NIU receives grant for literacy hot line

By Dina Paluzzi

NIU will receive a grant of $16,028 to help support the NIU-based Illinois Literacy Hotline.

The grant, announced Sept. 9 by Secretary of State Jim Edgar, was awarded by the Illinois secretary of state’s office and the Illinois State Board of Education.

Phyllis Cunningham, assistant to the chairman of the Leadership and Educational Policy Studies department, said because Edgar also is the state librarian, he is actively involved in the literacy program.

Because it is a statewide hot line, NIU refers people to the nearest literacy program available. The hot line was developed in January 1985 to aid illiterate and functionally illiterate people in Illinois, said Donna Amstutz, assistant director of the hot line. She added, “In the last 12 months the hot line has received an average of 538 calls per month.”

She said in one month last year, the hot line received 1,500 calls, but more typically it receives 400-450 calls per month.

Monday the hot line received almost 100 calls from people seeking help or offering assistance, Amstutz said. It was the result of a television program, “Bluffing It,” which aired Sunday night. Amstutz said the program was about an adult man who could not read or write, sought help and learned to function in the world.

She said after the program the actor in the movie, Dennis Weaver, encouraged people to call the national hot line to ask for or offer assistance. “We’ve been busy all day. Calls are coming in because of the program last night,” Cunningham said.

Amstutz said the hot line is staffed by four graduate assistants and three full-time people.

Kishwaukee College offers the programs for DeKalb, Ogle and Lee counties. Julie Lamb, coordinator for the Literacy Education for Adults Program, said out of the 63,000 adults in the district, 27 percent of them did not have a high school diploma and 14 percent of them had less than an eighth-grade education, the 1980 census stated.

LEAP works in conjunction with the Volunteer of Literacy Training Program, Lamb said. The program’s goals are to reach people who cannot read or read below the sixth-grade level and who are lacking in basic skills. “However, we will help anyone,” Lamb said.

Lamb said LEAP volunteers will meet with people wherever it is convenient. She said she conducts some diagnostic testing at the meetings to decide if the person needs tutoring or classes. She said some of the widely used facilities in the DeKalb community are the DeKalb Library, churches and the Newman Center.

Lamb said LEAP provides free training and has all materials needed for tutoring. She said the services are free and confidential.

The grant is the result of a statewide battle to minimize illiteracy. Amstutz said there are two million functionally illiterate adults in Illinois. Edgar also announced that state literacy programs will receive more than $4 million in grants this year to aid adults who read below the sixth-grade level.