Education feature: Organization strives to help residents read

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Clair Zarges pours hours into researching teaching methods and lesson plans for her student with the Curry County Literacy Council.

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

Reading is life to Clair Zarges.

That is why she was stunned to learn one in four adults in Curry County struggle to read.

A librarian for 44 years, Zarges felt the urge to share her passion for reading by volunteering with the Curry County Literacy Council based at Clovis Community College.

Between her two tutoring sessions a week, Zarges pours hours into researching teaching methods for developmentally delayed adults whom she works with at the CCLC.

“It’s every teacher’s dream to have one on one time with students,” Zarges said, rejoicing over how evident the progress is when she works with students in that setting.

But Zarges, who relocated from New Hampshire, said the teaching strategy is the same for adults or children.

“It’s about trying to find the key to the way they learn,” Zarges said. “Every single one is different. The beauty of working one on one is that you have time to find out what works.”

According to the CCLC’s Web site, 5,000 adults in Curry County struggle to read.

Zarges has worked in school, public and university libraries since 1964.

“It’s totally different,” Zarges said of being a librarian. “More and more it became a regular teaching position. You have lesson plans, scheduled classes coming in all day. It was very challenging.”

But Zarges enjoyed the rapport she built with the children, which she says is essential when teaching anyone.

“First and foremost, the personal report is the most important thing. To me it’s always the first thing,” Zarges said.

The Curry County Literacy Council depends on finding volunteers who are passionate about helping others, like Zarges, according to the council’s volunteer coordinator, Nancy Clark.

“We are definitely an organization of heart,” Clark said. “It’s important that the student feels respected by the tutor, so trying to find a good match is the biggest challenge.”

And even though finding volunteers is tough for the council, having students come to them for help is even more difficult Clark said.

“It is difficult to get the people that need us to be comfortable to come to us,” Clark said. “The need is quite high.”

The council tutors people in basic literacy, assists with life skills, workplace literacy, pre-GED preparation, and citizenship test preparation, as well as English as a second language tutoring.