Volunteers Spread Word on Illiteracy : Education: The Laubach program tries to reach an estimated 82,000 people in the county who can't read or write.

When Kathy Duhme remembers her first attempts at learning how to read and write, she remembers a great deal of frustration.

"I was getting disgusted and just wanted to quit," she said. "But then I thought, why am I going to quit? You have to keep with the project if you're going to get anywhere in this world."

The recollection is fresh for Duhme. The 39-year-old single mother started learning to read only four months ago with help from Laubach Literacy of Ventura County.

Now she is tutored twice a week in her Oxnard apartment by volunteer Marilyn Taschek.

"It was difficult to admit that I needed help, and I still have a long way to go, but it's important that I know how to read and write so that I can help my son if he needs it," Duhme said.

Duhme is one of an estimated 82,000 illiterate people in Ventura County, said Geri Loe, a tutoring volunteer and member of the board of directors for the Laubach organization.

"Most of those people are functionally illiterate, and the others are literate in another language but need to learn how to read and write English. We have classes for both," Loe said.

Illiterate people are unable to read prescriptions, traffic signs or labels. They have been able to compensate for their disability by developing tremendous memories and having family or co-workers read for them, Loe said.

"For the longest time, society said that to not be able to read was to be stupid," she said. "But then people became very aware of the problem of illiteracy."

The Laubach group, established in Ventura County in 1970, is part of Laubach Literacy Action, an international organization formed by Dr. Frank Laubach and based on a method of teaching he developed in 1929 while working as a missionary in the Philippines. The lessons are based on phonetics and charts.

The Ventura County chapter has more than 100 volunteers and has taught about 1,000 adults how to read and write, Loe said.

The group arranges individual tutoring sessions for functionally illiterate adults and also offers small group lessons for non-English speakers.

The Laubach group has operated on a volunteer basis and an annual budget of about $5,000, but this year it was named a Ventura County United Way recipient and was given $14,000, Loe said.

Ironically, despite the organization's expansion and recent achievements--it recently received a letter of commendation from Barbara Bush, an advocate of adult literacy--it still has a difficult time finding students.

"We have to depend on word-of-mouth to reach prospective students," Loe said. "We can't put up signs or flyers, because we're looking for people who don't know how to read."

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