Why People Care About Adult Literacy

Written by Terry Witherell, Executive Director, First Literacy

why people care about adult literacy first literacy blogWhy do people give to First Literacy? What inspires them to give? And why do we have almost 200 donors who have been giving to First Literacy for more than twenty years?

These were some of the questions I had when I joined First Literacy in July of 2019. I wanted to get to know as many of our donors as I could; so that I could thank them for their support and learn what inspired them to give. What I have learned is that our donors are all very different people, but they all have at least one thing in common: they believe in the power of education to change lives.

I met one donor for coffee in February of 2020, near her home in Cambridge. (This was one of the last in-person visits of 2020, since only a month later we all retreated to our homes, as the pandemic took hold of our country.) Luise doesn’t remember how she initially heard about First Literacy, but as someone who has worked her whole life in publishing, she knows the value of reading and an education; and so, she believes strongly in our work.

I called and spoke with Renier recently, to thank him and his wife for their end of year gift. I asked him why they had been giving for more than twenty years; he said that when he read some of our material, it struck him that knowing how to read can make all the difference in a person’s ability to work and care for their family.

The Impact of Literacy

According to the U.S. Department of Education there are 43 million adults in the United States with low literacy skills. That is a shocking number in a country like the United States.

Many people think that adults with low literacy skills are all foreign-born, but data from the U.S. Department of Education indicates that two-thirds of these adults were born here in the United States.

These adults battling with low literacy face many struggles including fewer employment opportunities, difficulties understanding healthcare information, and low self-scholar with daughter first literacy blogesteem.

In addition to the personal struggles, studies show that low literacy levels among U.S. adults could be costing the economy as much as $2.2 trillion a year.

And while much more attention is given to childhood literacy than to adult literacy, research from the National Institutes of Health found that “a mother’s reading skill is the greatest determinant of her children’s future academic success, outweighing other factors, such as neighborhood and family income.”

Supporting Adult Literacy

Some of our donors give because they know firsthand the importance of our work.  Although he does not make a lot of money, Wilfrix, a scholarship recipient in 2016 and 2017, gives monthly to First Literacy; he wants to give back and help other adult learners, the way he was helped.

Paula, who is now retired but worked for years for an adult literacy program in East Boston, also gives monthly; she knows that most adults who want to learn do not have access to the resources that they need.

I am still striving to meet all of our donors, to say thank you. But the donors I have met remind me why we do what we do. Without them, we couldn’t fulfill our mission: to support innovation in adult literacy, to change lives.

Why do you give to First Literacy? Please feel free to email Terry at

July 21, 2022

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