‘1 in 7 Suffolk adults are functionally illiterate’

Nonprofit creates community in-roads to address illiteracy


A fundraiser for the 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Literacy Suffolk, was held at the 89 North Music Venue on Sunday, Oct. 2, to collect funds for organizational events.

With East End Trio, billed as “one of Long Island’s premier live acoustic groups” on their website, providing the entertainment, guests had food, music, and raffles to enjoy.

Literacy Suffolk presented three awards that evening: Robert Margolin (Steven Moll Memorial Award), Rosemarie Jabour (Outstanding Volunteer Award), and Suffolk Regional OTB (Supporting Partnership Award).

Previously, on Wednesday, Sept. 28, Literacy Suffolk asked New Yorkers to experience what functional illiteracy felt like by hosting a Stop Reading Challenge event at the Suffolk Cooperative Library System, in Bellport, to demonstrate how debilitating it is not to be able to read.

Attendees were asked not to read for five minutes to experience the frustration of illiteracy.

It is currently estimated that 1 in 7 adults in Suffolk County cannot read, according to Literacy Suffolk. Nearly four million New Yorkers lack high school diplomas and/or have limited English language skills, with 25 percent of adults in New York State considered “low literate,” which puts these individuals at a 22 percent higher risk of unemployment, poverty, health issues and incarceration.

Since its founding in 1978, Literacy Suffolk has helped adults from 47 countries besides the United States through two programs: Basic Literacy and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). The Basic Literacy program helps adults who read and write below a sixth-grade level. ESOL teaches conversational English to people whose native language is not English.

Today, most of organization’s students are recent immigrants from Latin America, Turkey, and South Korea. Literacy Suffolk serves the community by:

• Providing free one-to-one and small group literacy tutoring;

• Recruiting and matching adult learners and volunteers;

• Training volunteer tutors and testers and provides support through literacy materials, in-service workshops, and tutor support groups; and

• Increasing public awareness of literacy through outreach, partnerships with libraries and other community organizations, and county literacy initiatives.

Before the pandemic in 2020, more than 200 Literacy Suffolk-trained tutors provided one-on-one literacy instruction. The tutors also led small conversation groups.

During the COVID pandemic, many tutors learned how to use Zoom, Google Meet, WhatsApp, and other video conferencing technologies to continue personalized instruction with their students. These technologies also supported new opportunities for students to practice their English skills in small groups.

With the language skills they obtained through Literacy Suffolk, students have “entered the workforce and advanced in their jobs. For many, literacy was the first step in working towards a high school equivalency diploma or earning U.S. citizenship,” according to a representative from the organization.

Other students have gone on to start their own businesses and become community leaders, and two former students have served on Literacy Suffolk’s Board of Directors.