WARSAW — This year marks the 10th year Cynthia Cates has served as executive director of Kosciusko Literacy Services. “It doesn’t seem that long,” she quipped.
In the last decade she has helped define the agency’s mission to help break the “cycle of poverty and illiteracy” through programs like the Read to Grow Children’s Book Club, One-on-One Tutoring for Adults and the Jail High School Equivalency Diploma program, with the support of United Way. This year, Cates also hopes to kick off a new project to raise funds for Literacy Services’ endowment and help solidify the agency’s financial future.
Raising funds is a constant challenge for non-profits like KLS, and directors of similar agencies around Indiana can look to Cates’ efforts in Kosciusko County as a model for illustrating the effectiveness of early education initiatives like Read to Grow. Combining data from the free and reduced lunch program with the third grade language arts portion of Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress, or ISTEP+ from 2009 to 2014, Cates was able to offer solid evidence of improvement. “Since the inception of Read to Grow Children’s Book Club, the improvement in the percentage of children on the free and reduced lunch program passing the language arts portion of the third grade ISTEP+ shows a 96 percent correlation rate,” she stated.
Those students showed a 12 to 15 percent improvement. Cates also found more than 45 percent of the club’s graduates made the honor roll in third grade. Seven hundred seventy-five children from low income homes received monthly book selections and their parents read a combined 12,100 hours.
According to Cates, “Reading to children at an early age helps the child’s brain to develop language and reading skills,” and studies bear this out, her own included. “An indirect outcome of this program is that the bond between parent and child is enhanced during the quality interaction of reading stories,” added Cates.
“This program has proven, positive results,” she concluded.
In 2014, Kosciusko Literacy Services also collaborated with Warsaw Adult Education and Work One to help 92 adults earn their high school equivalency diploma. Another five inmates at the Kosciusko County Jail did the same, greatly reducing their chances of recidivism. All of these people, and the 299 enrolled at Warsaw Adult Education improved their education level. “This helps increase employability,” Cates observed.
This spring, Literacy Services is holding its community book read, which will feature the stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe. In mid-March, books will be placed throughout the county in bright yellow bins. Dr. Elliott Engel will speak at area schools as well as the 2016 author dinner Thursday, April 14, at Noa Noa Wood Grill, another important fundraiser supporting the agency’s work.
Cates is also planning an ambitious effort based on London, England’s “Books About Town.” In London, the National Literary Trust auctioned off “bookbench sculptures” designed by local artists and inspired by famous books and authors: Dr. Seuss characters, Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations,” Helen Fielding’s “Bridget Jones’ Diary.” Cates hopes to collaborate with Lakeland Art Association to decorate the benches.
They will then be auctioned and sold to businesses and individuals. Her goal is $1,500,000, to be placed into an endowment, which will help secure Kosciusko Literacy Services’ future efforts to break the cycle of illiteracy and poverty.