If you are reading this article, you are blessed with the gift of sight and being able to read. For most, reading is second nature. A skill we take for granted.

Imagine your day from the time you wake in the morning until you close our eyes at night. Count how many times is it necessary to read? Did you read a prescription bottle label? Did you read a text message on your phone? When you drove to work did you read road signs? Did you read the newspaper or answer emails? If you responded to a text message or email, you can write.

What if you could not read and write? What would your day look like? A trip to the grocery store, filling-out a job application, or reading the safety label on household chemicals would be challenging if not entirely impossible.

Yankton along with communities across the United States struggle with the issue of citizens who are challenged with literacy. As early as 1977, Yankton has worked to address these issues officially receiving their 501c3 non-profit status as the Yankton Area Literacy Council (YALC) in 1987.

According to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, there are approximately 32 million adults who cannot read. The organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found fifty percent of U.S. adults cannot read at an eighth-grade level. According to these reports the impact of illiteracy:

• Limits an individual’s ability to obtain and understand information

• The unemployment rate is 2-4 times greater among those with little schooling

• Lower income

• Low self-esteem

• Little value given to education which translates into intergenerational illiteracy

• Illiterate individuals have more workplace accidents and take longer to recover due to misuse of medication

The YALC’s addresses these concerns with their mission “affects change by improving individual literacy skills through the valuable use of trained volunteers and by expanding community awareness.” Program Director Veronica Trezona and the YALC board of directors work hard to keep abreast of the Yankton School District’s needs, community needs, and trending programs statewide and nationally to address literacy issues.

What exactly does it mean to be “literate”? In many nations, the ability to read a simple sentence suffices as “literate”. This was the prior standard in the United States, but the current definition of literacy is: the ability to use printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.

Initially, YALC tutored both children and adults in reading and writing. Later the program expanded to teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) primarily to a growing Hispanic culture in the community. Tutoring sessions were first held at the Yankton Community Library, but as the number of students increased and with the library closed on Sundays in summer at that time, YALC needed a new place for sessions.

Former Program Director Bev Calvert approached The United Church of Christ (UCC) and they offered their Sunday school classrooms as a meeting space for tutors and students. With the positive partnership with UCC continuing, YALC moved to combine with Southeast Job Link (SEJL) located at the Regional Technical Education Center (RTEC).

YALC’s office and adult ESL courses were located at RTEC with children tutored at the UCC classrooms. In 2016, SEJL was dissolved and YALC needed a new partner, as well as office space. The office was temporarily moved to UCC and a new partnership was formed with Cornerstones Career Learning Center to provide ESL classes for adults in the Yankton area. YALC moved to its current location at Peace Presbyterian Church early this year.

If you are wondering if tutoring is the only program YALC offers the answer is no! YALC is much more including numerous programs and involvement promoting literacy at community events.

The upcoming late November early December book fair allows YALC to earn free books which are distributed at four community events throughout the year:

• Head Start early spring

• Yankton Area Arts Festival in May

• Harvest Halloween in October

• Mrs. Claus reading event in December

During these events, over 500 free books are distributed to area youth and teens. In addition to the book fair, Yankton native Jon Anderson President and Publisher for Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing Division regularly sends boxes of free children’s books to disperse within the community.

YALC volunteers participate in the “Read to Me” program. Volunteers either bring their own book or select one onsite. The program is offered on Tuesday evenings at The Banquet, at Pathways, and at the local grade schools. The Banquet located at UCC hosts a “red bookshelf” filled with a variety of books encouraging young people to read. Currently, Pathways is working to build and offer a “red bookshelf” at their shelter.

Many individuals and organizations donate books for distribution throughout the community and for the “red bookshelf.” One longtime contributor of gently used books is the Greater Federated Women’s Club (GFWC), a club Mrs. Kenyon, local Yankton historical figure, was highly involved with.

Another initiative offered by YALC is hosting guest authors typically once every two years. This year has been unique with two authors/illustrators visiting Yankton. In January, Jean Kirkpatrick from Mitchell, SD presented on her books including one written for the National Park Service offered at Mount Rushmore.

The second visiting authors and illustrator traveled to Yankton in September. “Yanktonian” Rebecca Swift and Sean Covel producer of “Napoleon Dynamite” were in Yankton to distribute Porter the Hoarder and the Ransacked Room to Yankton elementary school and Sacred Heart School first graders. The program was sponsored in

conjunction with SD Statewide Family Education Center. A book signing was held at the Yankton Community Library.

The story idea was Swift’s and based on her daughter and her messy room. She mentioned the idea to friend and colleague Covel who helped write and illustrate the book. There are sixty-four books available in the series!

According to Trezona, “the South Dakota authors and illustrators give children the chance to define their own careers. You don’t have to leave South Dakota to do great things.”

A YALC program unique to Yankton is Math is Fun. The program emerged after the Yankton School District five-year strategic plan identified the need to raise math scores. At the time, there was the Reading Recovery program but nothing to help students deficient in math.

To address these concerns, Jerome Klimisch, Stewart Elementary Principal and YALC board member and Patty Stuelpnagel, Speech Pathologist at Stewart began talking about creating and launching something like the reading program, but for math. Klimisch knew they would need several volunteers for the program so he approached Stuelpnagel and the seeds were planted.

The YALC board launched a pilot program in the fall 2016. Board members worked to identify and recruit volunteers for the program, worked with teachers to identify students appropriate for the program, and then parents were contacted. Math is Fun officially launched October 2016.

Test scores were reviewed in May 2017 and they showed a marked improvement for the students who participated in the Math is Fun program. Surveys were sent to teachers and parents and based upon the test scores and survey results the program was expanded to all four elementary schools in the District.

As years progressed, test scores for Math is Fun students continue to improve and teachers and parents have positive comments regarding the results. Expanding to all four schools resulted in the ongoing need for more volunteers. Based on fall test scores, teachers identify two students from each grade, and offered the program to parents and students.

Currently, there are approximately fifty students participating in Math is Fun. The program operates on Wednesdays after school from 3:30-4:30 PM. Students are provided a snack and engage in numerous activities to strengthen their math skills.

Trezano ecstatically reported adding St. Ben’s elementary school to the program this fall. Unlike the four public schools which have first through fifth grade classes, St. Ben’s classes are first through fourth grade. With an additional school, more volunteers were needed. Two Yankton High School students showed interest in the program and they are tutoring for Math is Fun.

When asked where she sees the future for YALC, Trezano hopes to not only sustain, but to expand current programs. Along with the board they keep abreast of community needs and remain open to new programs. There is always a need for more volunteers especially in the area of ESL for several languages and math. Books for teens and toddlers are also in demand. If you are interested in volunteering or would like to donate contact YALC.