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Literacy Volunteers of Sullivan County: The gift that keeps on giving

By Jonathan Fox
September 29, 2011

MONTICELLO, NY — It’s easy to take basic skills that we learn in school for granted, and I assumed that if I had mastered those skills at an early age, others must have as well. Shortly after moving to the Catskills, I became aware of some startling statistics, including the fact that there are thousands of adults in this country struggling with the ability to read and write. Determined to become a part of the solution, I perused the local papers and discovered the Literacy Volunteers of Sullivan County (LVSC).

I’ve yet to run across anyone who was unwilling, in theory, to volunteer their time in pursuit of helping those less fortunate—yet when it came time for me to “step up to the plate,” I hesitated. Having placed a call to the LVSC, located at 63 North Street in Monticello, I had a lengthy conversation with the center’s director, Connie Keller, who has been with the organization since the beginning.

“What would your life be like if you couldn’t read?” she asked me. “The simplest things—deciphering directions to a destination, filling out a form at the doctor’s office, or following a recipe—are all impossible without the ability to read. It’s a handicap, almost like being blind,” she said. This statement threw me, since I honestly had not given it much thought, having developed a love for reading and writing at an early age, and had parents who cared, a good education and advantages that are not readily available for everybody.

“Volunteers are the backbone of our organization,” Keller said, “but like most things worth doing, it requires determination, dedication and the giving of one’s time.”

When asked what prompted her personal mission, Keller was impassioned about the cause. “Back in 1994, while working at the Crawford Library in Monticello, I was aware of the Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA) but realized there was no program here in the county, where the rate of illiteracy was on the rise rather than decline.”

Keller then set the wheels in motion to create the LVSC, which began in her home and now, “thanks to the dedication and hard work of hundreds of volunteers,” encompasses the Read it Again Bookstore, a computer lab, library and learning center that provides a safe haven for adults seeking assistance in learning.