Literacy: Reading is worth learning at any age

A 78-year-old man called Marilyn Brandvold one day, saying he'd pay anything to learn how to read.

"How much would you pay?" Brandvold asked the man.

"I'd pay $1,000 a month to learn to read," he answered.

With her tradmark sense of humor, Brandvold caught her next literacy student.

"We'll, I'd do it for $1,000," she replied. "Or you can go the economy route and for $20 you still get me."

As the director of the Carson City Literacy Volunteers since 1993, Brandvold has turned the cause of adult literacy into a part-time job. She spends between 15 and 20 hours a week volunteering her time to battling illiteracy by tutoring and recruiting and helping tutors.

"I really do feel if everybody could read and write, most of society's ills could be cured," she said. "The world revolves around reading, it really does. People who can't read are forever and ever condemned to low-paying jobs. Illiteracy forever affects your place in society. It's never too late to learn to read and write."

A Nebraska native, Brandvold spent 45 years working as a registered nurse. One of her last positions was as a school nurse where she came in contact with many children who had problems reading.

"I saw how very early on reading and writing shape the person you can become," Brandvold said.

Brandvold and her husband Gerald retired to Carson City from Winnemucca in 1990.

A doctor once told Brandvold she should volunteer her time passing juice to patients at the hospital.

"I told him I hated it when I was paid to do it. Why would I do it in my golden years?" she asked.

"I was looking for my niche in the world where I could make a difference," she said. "I had time to give and I didn't want to give it to something that wouldn't help society."

Gerald found an advertisement for literacy volunteers.

"He told me, 'You always said you wanted to do it. Go do it,'" she said.

She did and became the group's leader in 1993.

"One of the things Gerald told me when I started this was, 'You are not going to get me involved in this.'

"He has two students," she said with a giggle.

Since 1993 the group has grown from 13 volunteers to 50 volunteers with about the same number of students. The literacy volunteer group is funded solely with donations. They have no overhead costs and all money donated goes directly to buying materials for students, Brandvold said.

All the problems children with a reading problem face are compounded with the responsibility of adulthood, she said.

Students come to the group with a particular look, she said: Head down, speaking shyly, afraid of being judged for the inability to read in an information-conscious world. Brandvold takes the task of matching the tutors and students seriously. A good match may determine the success of the student. Soon they walk proudly, heads up - every tutor has a success story, Brandvold said.

"We get together and brag about our students instead of our grandkids," she said. "It's like, yeah, your student is great, but mine is better. Once you've learned to read, it's your responsibility to pass it on to someone else."

This year Brandvold was honored by the Nevada State Literacy Coalition and several other state education and literacy agencies as the outstanding literacy administrator of the year.

"In all my years as a nurse, it never occurred to me that people couldn't read," she said. "You don't realize the problem until you get involved in something like this.

"I'm a people person. I enjoy spending my time constructively. I figured out a long time ago you can't save the whole world. But you can save a few, can't you?"

For information on becoming a literacy tutor, or if you know someone who needs tutoring, call 885-1010.


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