CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Reading a book, filling out a form, signing your name – it’s easy to take being able to do these things for granted.
For nearly 50 years, adults have gained this skill through the Trident Literacy Association.
News 2’s Carolyn Murray shares this week’s Everyday Hero: the founder of the organization and asked what sparked the idea to help adults learn to read and write.
“A gentleman came up to me, held out a card and said, ‘do you think this card is appropriate for my grandson?’ and I looked at the card and said yes, I think he would really like it,” explained Pat Gibson.
She continued: “When I went to check out, the clerk said thank you for helping him buy a card today because he cannot read, and it was an epiphany for me. It had never occurred to me that there were adults who couldn’t read.”
Gibson quickly dismisses the notion that she is solely responsible for starting Trident Literacy, but the Virginia native planted the seed for the organization in 1972.
“It has evolved, over time, to be quite different from the way we started,” she said. “At first it was tutors and students and we were all using the same method of teaching adults who were totally illiterate. Now Trident Literacy Association has evolved into an award-winning adult education program.”
Anyone aged 17 and older can achieve the life-changing skill of reading and writing. For a nominal fee, and for people who can’t pay there are grants.
No one who wants to learn or read is turned away.
“Our purpose is to work with people who are low in their reading skills and perhaps need to get a GED in order to enter the workforce,” she said. “Our emphasis now is a little different although we still work with some total non-readers.”
“What are some reasons that people have struggled to learn to read,” Carolyn Murray asked Gibson. “If there are no books in the home there isn’t much incentive to read,” she replied. “And then children have difficulty in school but then when they go home from school mom and dad can’t help them read. Poverty is a reason some children never master reading.”
She went on to say: “A lot of children have difficulty learning to read but with good teaching and good instruction they can become good readers.”
And Gibson says they are often hidden in plain sight – your neighbors, relatives, and friends. Thousands of people struggling to read and write in Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester Counties.
“There are 66,000 adults in the tri-county area who do not possess a high school credential and they have a problem filling out a job application form,” said Gibson.
Gibson celebrates every facet of the comprehensive program, but she admits a special fondness for the English as a second language class.
“I confess that’s very close to my heart because I taught English as a second language for a long time. These are people who may have been born in another country, migrated here and want to become citizens. They can work on their citizenship skills, literacy skills, and all of that improves the family situation,” she said.
Trident Literacy impacts some of the youngest members of the family. “Children can be learning English at the same time their moms and dads are in the ESL classes,” said Gibson.
The program has grown since its inception with about a dozen students to now more than a thousand. Each one starting because of a unique set of circumstances, finishing with purpose and pride.
For starting Trident Literacy, Pat Gibson is an everyday hero. “I’m very humbled,” she said. “I know a lot of students and I know the stories of a lot of students. I really honored by the number of people who continue to volunteer. We are helping people who need a little help.”