"The truck is stuck in the mud."
A mother and daughter sit side by side, reading aloud with great care as the younger woman's 3-year-old son plays nearby. For nine weeks, they have attended free literacy classes offered by the South East Community Literacy Council.
"I went to Bell High School, but I didn't learn to read," said Blanca, a 23-year-old Huntington Park resident who asked that her real name not be used. "When we were first (attending the literacy class), we would stutter a lot when we read. We're getting more confidence."
For more than 20 years, the council's core group of literacy tutors has taught hundreds to read and write in English. They continued to teach as the community around them changed from a population that was 20% Latino to one that is now 90% to 95% Latino.
Now mostly in their 70s, the tutors are trying to recruit younger, Latino tutors who will be able to continue the program.
"I know there'll come a time when we won't be able to hold on," said council President Leona McRoberts, 75, a literacy teacher for 22 years.
"This is hard to say, but the older people are going to die, and if they don't bring in younger people, there'll be no program," said Karen Kaye, field development director for California Literacy Inc., the nonprofit agency that oversees the council.
The South East Community Literacy Council was part of the larger San Gabriel Valley Literacy Council for 20 years before becoming independent in 1989. The group now needs to network locally, building community and financial support, if it hopes to survive, Kaye said.
The council received an $8,000 county grant in June, 1992, to help set up an office, buy books and materials, and conduct tutor training. In January, the group was assigned a bilingual Vista volunteer who will help with recruitment and act as a liaison to the community.
The recruitment drive has resulted in a 75% increase in students and volunteers, Stanley said. But soon the grant money will run out, and although the Vista worker could be directed to stay another two years, it is unclear how long her assignment will last.
"They need tutors and they need money," Kaye said.
The literacy council conducts classes at five locations throughout the Southeast area and will celebrate Literacy Week this week.
Information: (213) 562-1040.