Literacy advocate of the year

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HAYWARD, Wis. – Jessica Hale, a Lac Courte Oreilles resident and Bad River member, was awarded the 2009 Literacy Advocate of the Year award from Wisconsin Literacy, Inc. at its 7th Annual Celebration of Literacy at the Edgewater Hotel in Madison, Wis. May 7.

The award ceremony was a celebration of award-winning adult learners, tutors and literacy advocates in Wisconsin.

Hale was nominated for the award by Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College’s Adult Basic Education program.

“Because of Jessica we were able to save our GED program and start a new Life Skills Reading program in our Native American community,” said Sue Reynolds, the program coordinator. The ABE program helps provide opportunities for high school dropouts to obtain a GED or HSED degree. “The high school dropout rate for Native Americans is around 50 percent and the thought that we would lose our program in this high poverty, low opportunity, rural Native American community was unthinkable.

“I had to find a way to do it, but for almost two years, I couldn’t get it going. … Jessica is a person who says yes. She is devoted to our school and this community and when she wants something done there is no stopping her. Throughout the next year, she was the one who pointed me in the right direction, steered me around the road blocks and made it happen. Without her direction, encouragement, support and financial backing, our literacy program would not exist.”

“The adult and basic literacy movement is critical nationwide. … providing people the opportunities to succeed is a global social justice issue, and it fundamentally begins with literacy,” Hale said. “Supporting literacy is not just about the ability to read, it is about equity and the ability to participate in a democratic process.”

“Reading is a ladder out of poverty,” said Prime Minister Gordon Brown in his address to launch the National Year of Reading Jan. 8, 2008. “It is probably one of the best anti-poverty, anti-deprivation, anti-crime, anti-vandalism policies you can think of.”

Advocates and scholars around the globe have demonstrated that literacy is power. “To acquire literacy is more than to psychologically and mechanically dominate reading and writing techniques,” said Paulo Freire. “It is to dominate those techniques in terms of consciousness; to understand what one reads and to write what one understands: It is to communicate graphically. Acquiring literacy does not involve memorizing sentences, words or syllables – lifeless objects unconnected to an existential universe – but rather an attitude of creation and re-creation, a self-transformation producing a stance of intervention in one’s context.”

“I am one person in a long line of far more accomplished scholars who have dedicated their lives to advocating for literacy and overcoming barriers of oppression. There will be, I am sure, many generations more,” Hale said. “However, without community such achievements and awards would have gone unnoticed.”

As Wisconsin Literacy’s only fundraiser, the Celebration of Literacy helps raise funds to support 58 literacy programs throughout the state while also celebrating the accomplishments of outstanding learners, tutors and literacy advocates.