News & Opinion » News

Literacy Rochester enters agreement to save Syracuse nonprofit


A Rochester nonprofit dedicated to adult literacy has formed a partnership to save the nation's first volunteer literacy chapter from extinction.

Last October, Literacy Central New York announced it would be ending its services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But for the past seven months, Literacy Rochester has been working to keep that from happening and has just announced that it has entered into an agreement to manage the historic organization.

"There's people in Monroe County, they can't go to the grocery store by themselves and be able to properly read a label on a box of cereal,” said Literacy Rochester development director Joshua Stapf, “and we know that's very true for people in the Onondaga County community and we didn't want to have them suffer and lose very vital programming."

In addition to restarting traditional literacy classes in Onondaga County on July 1, Literacy Rochester will be re-creating its digital literacy program in Syracuse.

"Syracuse and Onondaga County has a very similar demographic as Rochester and Monroe County, where there's a huge chunk of the community that doesn't have regular access to broadband internet and to computers in their homes,” Stapf said, “so their ability to interpret and handle computer-based information is very difficult."

Stapf said he will travel to Syracuse a couple of days a week to organize and manage fundraising for the nonprofit, and Literacy Rochester program director Jennifer Eaton will focus on restarting tutor training and literacy classes.

Literacy Volunteers of America, which established its first chapter in Syracuse in 1962, was founded by Ruth Colvin.

Colvin, who is now 104, told WXXI News in 2014 that she began the national literacy effort after reading in the local newspaper in 1961 that there were 11,055 functionally illiterate people living in Syracuse, according to the 1960 U.S. Census.

“Not in Asia or Africa or China, in Syracuse,” Colvin said, “My city. Who were they? Why couldn’t they read? What was being done? Well, that bothered me.”

In 2006, Colvin was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.

Beth Adams is a reporter for WXXI News, a media partner of CITY.