<<Home Niagara Falls Reporter Archive>>


By David Staba

One out of four people living in Niagara Falls can't read this.

Buffalo's illiteracy rate is even higher, with about 30 percent of adults classified as "functionally illiterate," meaning they can't perform such basic tasks as filling out a job application, following directions on a box of anything, or enjoying the insightful analysis and cutting sarcasm found in each issue of the Niagara Falls Reporter.

In an age flooded with e-mails, Web sites and publications aimed at every conceivable demographic niche, it's easy forget that anybody can't read, much less one in four or more.

The problem only seems to get much publicity on the rare occasion when someone famous admits to it, as Stanley Cup-winning hockey coach Jacques Demers did earlier this month, or All-Pro defensive end Dexter Manley did in the late 1980s.

Demers told reporters at a book-launch party for his autobiography, "Jacques Demers: En Toutes Lettres," which translates as "All Spelled Out," that his illiteracy led to lifelong feelings of isolation.

"I took to protecting myself," said the man who led the Montreal Canadiens, the National Hockey League's most storied franchise, to the Cup in 1993. "You put a wall around yourself. And when I was given the possibility of talking, I could speak well and I think that really saved me."

Like many in a similar situation, Demers said an abusive upbringing led to learning problems.

"All I wanted from my father was to treat me with love," Demers said, according to ESPN.com. "Not to beat me up when I did something wrong. Not to beat up my mom. It really hurt me because he took away my childhood. ... If I could not write or read, it was because I had so much of a problem with anxiety because of the things going on in the family. I couldn't go to sleep at night. I'd go to school and I couldn't learn anything."

Someone with a brilliant hockey mind or an innate ability to knock the snot out of a quarterback may eventually be able to survive, or even thrive, without a basic grasp of two of the three Rs. For most, though, illiteracy serves as a sentence to a lifetime of poverty.

While this may seem controversial, we at the Reporter are in favor of people knowing how to read. It just makes good business sense. And instead of simply paying lip service, we're doing something about it.

Each year, the Literacy Volunteers of Buffalo and Erie County puts on an event called "Coffee and Chocolate," a well-caffeinated evening of fund-raising for the organization.

This year's gala is set for Thursday, Nov. 17, and the Niagara Falls Reporter is honored to have been selected as an official media sponsor.

Yes, we know what you're thinking. Buffalo has plenty of newspapers of its own, both daily and weekly in nature. Don't those publications want their target readership to be able to read their products? Is it possible that the Niagara Falls Reporter cares more about literacy than the competition? We'll leave that for you to judge.

As indicated in an advertisement elsewhere in this issue, the fund-raiser runs from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., at the auditorium behind the Squier Mansion at 1313 Main St. in Buffalo, between Riley and Bryant streets. The mansion, slated for demolition only a few years ago, has been renovated into Literacy Volunteers headquarters under the leadership of Executive Director Tracy Diina.

The organization helps hundreds of people learn to read each year through its tutoring program. Volunteers meet with students twice a week for one-hour sessions, offering two programs -- Basic Reading and English for Speakers of Other Languages.

The illiteracy rates in Buffalo and Niagara Falls aren't the only sobering numbers. According to a national study, more than three-quarters of adults on public assistance are functionally illiterate. Eighty-four percent of unemployed fathers and 82 percent of unemployed mothers can't read. And 60 percent of the prison population can't, either.

Yet illiteracy remains one of those problems nobody likes to think or talk about, much less spend money on. Despite the direct correlation between illiteracy and poverty, funding levels in New York State for literacy programs have remained unchanged since 1988.

That's where "Coffee and Chocolate" comes in. Literacy Volunteers requests a $25 donation for admission, with businesses throughout the region providing gift baskets to be given out through raffles and silent auction. In the interest of full disclosure, the Reporter basket will include a gift certificate for dinner for two at the Clarkson House in Lewiston, a selection of wines and spirits from Third Street Liquors and, of course, a year's mailed subscription to the newspaper.

Besides the sumptuous refreshments included in the title, light appetizers will be served and a cash bar available.

With everybody dolled up for a late-autumn outing and a DJ spinning appropriately festive-yet-classy tunes, it always makes for a nice evening to benefit a great cause.

And the money raised makes a difference. According to the organization, each dollar spent on tutoring yields $33 in economic impact to the community, due to jobless clients becoming employable and those with jobs getting better ones. Literacy Volunteers of Buffalo and Erie County is always looking for volunteers and anyone interested can find out more by calling 876-8991, visiting the organization's Web site at www.literacybuffalo.org or e-mailing to info@literacybuffalo.org.

The Niagara County branch of Literacy Volunteers is headquartered on the second floor of the Lockport Public Library. The group also offers services in Niagara Falls, with more information available to prospective volunteers and clients by calling 433-7014.

David Staba is the sports editor of the Niagara Falls Reporter. He welcomes e-mail at dstaba13@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Nov. 15 2005