Burb's Eye View: Reading, writing and the literary spirit

Helen Lopez could get the words out. However, when it came time to deliver a speech, the president of Burbank Kiwanis’ Aktion Club had trouble lifting them off the page.

That all changed this past December, when an appointment with the Burbank City Library’s literacy program began helping Lopez raise her reading level and her spirits.

“Now, I read all kinds of stuff,” said Lopez, 66. “(The program) has helped me read better, and I enjoy it.”

Lopez and more than 2,000 others have learned to read through the city’s literacy program. Since 1992, it has provided free one-on-one tutoring to adults who speak and understand English, but read and write below an eighth-grade level.

Next week, you have the opportunity to help them help people read. A spelling bee is replacing the program’s annual trivia bee. It will be where the bulk of the program’s annual budget for supplies and administration will be raised.

The event, coupled with a silent auction, will take place at 6:30 p.m. on April 25. in St. Leon Armenian Cathedral’s Ritz Banquet Hall, 3325 N. Glenoaks Blvd. 

Tickets are $25 in advance at the library, $30 at the door. Teams of three can still register for $250 by calling the library’s literacy services at 818-238-5577. While most of the participants will probably be adults, students in the sixth grade and above can also enter.

The “Master of Pronunciation” will be Drew Sugars, Burbank’s public information officer. Each team will face three judges – one of whom will be me. I’m tough, but fair. Logophiles will be tested on words from a third-grade reading level and up.

This year’s keynote speech will be delivered by Lopez. She will represent not only one of the program’s success stories but the Aktion Club — a service group for adults with developmental disabilities.

Her Kiwanis sponsor, Isabel Adams, was somewhat skeptical that the library’s program would succeed where others had not. Lopez stopped going to school in third grade and, though she’s given speeches at Kiwanis conventions in the past, words sometimes tripped her up.

Five months ago, Lopez met with volunteer Helen Vincent to get help reading words aloud.

“We just finished working on her speech for September – a whole page. She read it lickety-split and had problems with only four words,” Adams said. “I was astounded; she read it aloud without even stopping.”

Outside the library, a banner blaring “Learn to Read” bobs wildly every time a little wind kicks across Glenoaks. From these three words come a mission of service that gives adults a boost to help them reach goals that at one time may have seemed impossible – even if that goal is as straightforward as improving one’s life.

“When I started, I didn’t know how to read, but now I read better,” Lopez laughed.


BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. When he’s not booting up his spellchecker, he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter: @818NewGuy.

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