DIANE MAKAR MURPHY Tutoring program tackles literacy issues

Nineteenth-century poet Martin Farquhar Tupper said, "A good book is the best of friends ..." But to adults who can't read, Project Opportunity's tutors may be the "best of friends."
With a pair of short training workshops, and a commitment of one or two hours a week at your convenience, you can volunteer with the project's adult literacy program. No college or teaching experience is needed.
Project Opportunity's literacy program is free to adults, who hear about it via radio ads, GED instructors, information sent to churches, or word of mouth. It was started in 1984 in coordination with Youngstown city school's Adult Basic Literacy Program or ABLE.
"A lot of the [students] who come in have English as a second language, or have a learning disability or dyslexia. Some got passed on or even graduated, but still can't read above a fourth-grade level. One student was the head of a very successful Youngstown corporation and couldn't read," said Rosann Prosenjak.
Matchmaker: Prosenjak, Project Opportunity Matchmaker, has the job of pairing students with tutors.
Last year, about 30 adults were tutored through the program, but Prosenjak would like to see 100 become literate. "Many more could be helped, but are too shy," she said. "And some drop out early on because when they see we start with the basics, they think it will be too long a road to travel.
"I always tell them there is no rush. You work at your own pace. There are no tests and no grades," she said. "And I tell them it is all confidential. No names are given out, and no student is ever included in publicity."
Project Opportunity offers two six-hour training workshops for adult tutors. Volunteers must attend both free sessions to be certified. They learn to work with three or four students at a time, using the Laubach Reading Technique. The approach uses four levels of workbooks, begins with alphabet basics, and progresses through difficult sentences. Reading and penmanship are taught at each level. The Laubach Reading Technique teaches by repetition and phonics, Prosenjak said.
"We also teach tutors how to act with students. We tell tutors not to condescend and to be understanding. This is important because often, in the past, a student had not gotten family support," she said. "Sensitivity to students is one of the main things taught in the workshops -- how to relate on an equal level with your students."
Tutoring is not always easy, Prosenjak added. "Some people get discouraged if they have to go over things again and again, which they often must," she explained. "But a lot of our tutors are very happy and confident. & quot;
Volunteers: According to Prosenjak, volunteers come from "all walks of life." Project Opportunity has attracted retirees, secretaries, teachers, clergy, engineers and business owners, among others, to its volunteer ranks.
"A very calm person seems to do better than a go-getter, because the go-getters seem to push too much and when it doesn't happen fast enough, quit," Prosenjak said. "We need someone who wants to be helpful."
Tutor safety is assured in two ways. Project Opportunity finds a public place for tutors and students to meet, such as the library or a GED center. And tutors talk to their students on the telephone before actually meeting them.
"All of us have little fears of what we can't do, but once we overcome them, we often see they weren't that big and that we can accomplish more than we thought," Prosenjak said. "This applies to the students and the tutors."
The workshop registration deadline is Friday. For more information or to sign up for the Oct. 27 and Nov. 3 workshops, call (330) 747-7555 and leave a message. Project Opportunity's matchmaker will call you back.