Fighting illiteracy: For woman, reward is in seeing others get help learning to read

Leslie Gelders' reward is in seeing others get the assistance they need to be able to read.
by Bryan Painter Published: November 3, 2013

Leslie Gelders' mother made a suggestion back in 1985.

Gelders listened.

“I was looking for a volunteer opportunity,” Gelders said. “My mother was a librarian, and she suggested I become a tutor and help an adult learn to read. I went through the training course and began volunteering with the Norman Literacy Council.

“I found working one-on-one with a student to be rewarding, and I became very interested in the problem of illiteracy and its impact on society.”

Today, Gelders is the director of the Literacy Resources Office at the state Department of Libraries. In that department, she has been involved with the fight against illiteracy in a professional and volunteer capacity since 1987.

“Leslie's creative, and she's not afraid to try new ideas,” said Bill Young, public information manager for the state Department of Libraries. “She has a proven track record, and her enthusiasm is infectious. I think that's why local literacy councils have been willing to embrace many of the new efforts and initiatives that the Oklahoma Department of Libraries has started.”

Gelders grew up a reader in a reading family. She was surrounded by books.

So she was really unaware of the issue of illiteracy until she began her volunteer work.

“Like most people, I was shocked to hear statistics like ‘one in five Americans can't read,'” Gelders said. “Very early on it became obvious to me that Oklahoma's volunteer literacy community is made up of individuals with a lot of heart.

“These were people helping people for no other reason than trying to make a difference in a person's life. It's inspiring to work with these volunteers every day.”

Varying degrees of success

Certainly adult new readers have varying degrees of success, she said. They also enter study with different goals, ranging from wanting to get their GED to simply wanting to be able to read a book to their children or grandchildren. Some want better reading skills to get a better job or to take college courses in a chosen field.

“So success depends on the person,” she said. “Even reaching what some would consider small goals can be a great success for people who have struggled with reading their whole lives.

“We're there to give learners the assistance they need to reach whatever goal they have.”

by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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