Millions of Californians cannot read. One out of six is illiterate. The inability to read can make life miserable. Nearly 75% of unemployed adults are functionally illiterate. At least half of the men and women in prison and one-third of those on welfare cannot read. Adult illiteracy is a critical problem. It is also a new priority for the United Way of Los Angeles.
To address illiteracy, a United Way task force is working to encourage more spending on existing programs and on investigating gaps in services. One good place to start would be the Los Angeles Public Library’s volunteer-tutor program. Hundreds of adults who want to learn to read are on a waiting list for the Library Adult Reading Program. Other reading programs are also overcrowded. The need is great.
The illiteracy thrust is one of two new priorities as the United Way kicks off its annual campaign; the goal is $89 million. The second new thrust is AIDS, a critical public-health issue for Southern California.
Nearly 90 United Way agencies and services provide information, counseling, testing and care for AIDS patients. In addition to that support, the United Way has decided to take on an even greater leadership role by identifying needs, developing resources and assessing the financial and social impact of the disease on the community.
In addition to the new priorities, the United Way will continue to help one out of three residents of Southern California though its 336 agencies and 13 health partners including the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Assn. and the American Lung Assn. of Los Angeles County.
Whether the need is for a scout troop or for help with a drinking problem, the United Way is the largest provider of dollars. The money comes largely from the paychecks of individual employees. Most donations are spent on services; only 12 cents per dollar is spent on administrative costs.
As the annual campaign gets under way, the new United Way leadership is broadening its appeal. The campaign is reaching out to loyal donors and to new donors in the entertainment industry, law firms, hospitals, colleges and universities. Every penny is needed to fight illiteracy, to blunt the devastating impact of AIDS and to address a million needs in Southern California.