His students learn to read, bar none

As a volunteer with Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT), East Dallas resident Phil Stephens is teaching inmates at the Lew Sterrett Justice Center how to read.

“I take reading so much for granted, but there are so many people who can’t read,” says Stephens, who works at a Dallas law firm. “Reading is vital. You can’t get a job if you can’t read.”

LIFT is an East Dallas nonprofit agency that seeks to reduce adult illiteracy by relying on volunteers to teach hundreds of students each month.

Teaching reading seemed natural to Stephens, whose mother was an English teacher. So in September, he attended LIFT training sessions and was placed with a class at a Downtown church.

But his class of four students slowly disappeared. One student found a job, another had a drinking problem, and the others simply quit coming to the class.

Despite the lack of students, Stephens wasn’t ready to give up.

Instead, he began teaching classes at the Downtown jail. Each Tuesday and Friday evening, Phil and another volunteer teach inmates who have requested the opportunity to be in a literacy class. They review spelling cards, sound out the words and read aloud.

And unlike in his first volunteer job, Stephens can measure success at the jail. After one student’s release, the student visited the LIFT office because he wanted to continue classes.

Stephens’ students are reading aloud and beginning to ask questions and differentiate between sounds. They have even discussed dialects and why Texans say “ya’ll”, Stephens says.

“I’m volunteering two hours each week, eight hours each month, so that’s just one day,” Stephens says. “It doesn’t seem like much to spare two hours a week out of life.

“I hope I’m doing something that may change a life or two. It may not be in a dramatic way, but if teaching someone to read can help him get a job, then maybe he won’t steal.”

LIFT volunteer coordinator Cynthia Reid asks that volunteers commit to the program for one year and teach one class per week. Classes are held days and evenings at locations throughout Dallas. Experience is not necessary and training is provided.

Volunteer Opportunities

The Volunteer Center is a United Way agency serving as a clearinghouse to recruit and refer volunteers for more than 750 agencies in Dallas. Thousands of volunteer positions are waiting to be filled. Call the Volunteer Center at 826-6767 for more information about these and other volunteer opportunities:

TEEN-AGE LEADERS at area high schools need your help. A program that brings together sophomores from 12 Dallas high schools in an effort to promote racial understanding and foster leadership development needs volunteer liaisons for the 1992-93 school year. Volunteers work directly with students, attending monthly meetings and helping plan a volunteer project.

GIVE GANG MEMBERS AN ALTERNATIVE. A nonprofit agency providing an alternative camping program for gang members needs volunteers to serve as camp assistants. The three-day camps are held monthly and promote self-discipline, pride and self-esteem among troubled youths. Volunteers can help campers with rope courses, basketball games and other activities. Extensive training is provided.

READING, WRITING AND ‘RITHMETIC. Tutors are needed to assist students at an agency providing development opportunities for youths. Volunteers are needed weekdays and evenings until 6 p.m. in East Dallas. Volunteers also can serve as facilitators and counselors.


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