Photo courtesy Adult Reading Center
In 1987, Dale Pillow was astounded to discover that about one in five people in the Greater Houston area were not functionally literate.
"The statistics about adult literacy surprised me because we—my whole family—are such readers," Pillow said. "And it was just inconceivable that [adult illiteracy] would be that high."
Pillow founded the Adult Reading Center that year with co-founders Wanda Hatton and Patty Mocus. The nonprofit organization in Pearland helps residents study to receive their general equivalency diploma, to become U.S. citizens or to learn English to better communicate in the workforce.
The organization has grown to 14 staff members and roughly 150 volunteers who help around 750–1,000 people each year, said Pillow, now the nonprofit's CEO. Students come from varied backgrounds, ranging from those with little education to participants who were well-educated before coming to the U.S. but need help learning English.
One of the volunteers—a retired and naturalized citizen himself—dedicates his time to helping students prepare for the U.S. citizenship test. Pillow said he has a 100 percent success rate in helping those students complete their exams, and he has reached nearly 100 students.
The center also serves people who are pursuing their GED to keep a job they have, improve their chances to get hired or receive specialized training requiring a degree, she said.
"We also have students who complete their GED and are looking to go on into a degree program," Pillow said. "They may start out at [Alvin Community College], but then they're looking at a four-year degree. So we have students who are coming from different backgrounds."
Many English as a Second Language, or ESL, students visit the center to learn English as well.
"Pearland is a very diverse community," Pillow said, "We have a large ESL program where we do teach individuals how to speak, read and write English."
Both new volunteers and students have to attend an orientation. Pillow said the Adult Reading Center also encourages students to attend classes for six hours per week. She said taking the classes requires commitment.
"We have a very strict attendance guideline," she said. "[Students] are not allowed to drop in at their convenience and say, 'Well, I don't really feel like going to school today.'"
Funding for the center comes from donors and donations from students or their families as well as national and state funding.
The organization also holds two large fundraising events each year: the Red Hat Literacy Luncheon each spring and a gala each fall. The luncheon will be March 26 this year at the Knights of Colombus Hall at 2320 Hatfield Road, Pearland. Houston Astros legend Larry Dierker will speak at this year's event, which should accommodate 500 people.
Adult Reading Center
2246 N. Washington Ave.