STORY BY SAM FATHALLAH
One in six adults in the United States cannot read this sentence.
This fact resonated with students in last year’s Leadership: Influence and Change class. During the class, a 60-year-old man shared the story of his journey to literacy through Drake University’s Adult Literacy Center.
This story about the center moved these students to give back to the center. A year ago, the students decided to put on a team spelling bee fundraiser in order to raise money for the center.
This year, the new students from the same class are putting on a second Adult Spelling Bee and want to beat the $3,000 raised last year.
The event is at 6 p.m. on Friday at Pomerantz Stage in the Olmsted Center.
Junior Tierney Sereika, a member of this year’s class, said not many Drake students are aware of the work the center is doing to help these individuals.
“We’re really trying to get more students to come and understand what’s going on,” Sereika said. “We’re trying to make the Adult Literacy Center something much bigger.”
That’s where Sereika and her classmates come in.
Most students of the center receive scholarships in order to attend classes, so the Adult Spelling Bee aims to raise this money to fund these scholarships.
Students and community members will pay $200 to register their five-member teams for the spelling bee. Throughout the night there will be appetizers and adult beverages. The participants’ reading and writing skills will be tested through different games played at the event.
“We’re making an intangible impact on real people’s lives,” Sereika said. “We’ve had speakers come into class and we’ll have speakers come to the event to share their stories. It’s those kinds of stories that make it worth it.”
For Anne Murr, director of the Adult Literacy Center, the work these students are doing is critical to the success of the center as a whole.
“Not only do we want to raise money for the center, but we want to raise awareness about adult literacy issues,” Murr said in an email. “It was great fun (last year), and several teams said they would come back this year.”
Aside from being the director, Murr gives back to her community by teaching classes at the Adult Literacy Center. Through these classes, she said the community gives back to her just as much, through their stories.
“For me, the most gratifying part is that I get to listen to people’s stories, to share in some small way, in their life journey,” Murr said. “I hear how life as a non-reader defeats them and I am able to give them hope.”
Sereika was surprised when she heard these stories about adult illiteracy as she and her classmates began planning the event.
“It’s not that people don’t want to learn how to read or write,” Sereika said. “It’s just hard if you’re not educated as a child and you grow up not learning it.”
Meghan Blancas, one of the professors of Leadership: Influence and Change, said her students’ project was a learning opportunity for her too.
“I had never met anybody or heard of anybody who was not able to read or write,” Blancas said. “To meet someone who learned literacy at a later age made me realize how privileged I am to have these skills.”
This is Blancas’ second year overseeing the class and the event, which she believes to be a success.
“It’s heartwarming to see students engage with something like the Adult Literacy Center,” Blancas said. “It’s really gratifying to see the students actually beginning to apply leadership principles to their projects.”