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What: National Read-a-thon, ``Incredible Reading Rally' for Reading Connections, an adult literacy program.

When: Feb. 23-March 9Information: Reading Connections, 301 S. Elm St., Suite 218. Phone, 230-2223. Pick up entries at Reading Connections or Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Friendly Center


What: Incredible Reading Rally essay contest

Who: All middle school students

Topic: ``Why Reading is Important to Me'

Information: Reading Connections, 230-2223


What: Thomas Barksdale, author of ``It's All About You,' a motivational guide for young adults

When: 5 to 7 p.m. Feb. 24

Where: Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Friendly Center

Information: 854-4200


40 million adults function at the lowest literacy levels.

Four out of 10 job applicants tested in 1992 lacked the basic reading and/or math skills necessary for the job they sought.

The U.S. Department of Education estimates that less than 10 percent of adults who need literacy help are being reached.

In North Carolina, 890,000 adults (about 20 percent) experience reading and writing difficulties that seriously affect their daily lives and that of their families.

In Guilford County, 54,000 adults (about 24 percent) have no high school diploma or equivalent education.

Incredible Reading Rally raises awareness about adult illiteracy


Felicia Kornegay recalls the day in 1990 when she encountered a co-worker at the sandwich vending machine.

Kornegay, who then worked at Burlington Industries, noticed that the man was taking an inordinate amount of time making a choice. She sensed something was wrong.

She struck up a conversation with the man, who eventually asked her, ``Can you tell me which one is a cheeseburger?'

Kornegay realized the man couldn't read.

After that day, the man regularly came to her with questions about things he wasn't able to decipher.

It was Kornegay's initiation into a world inhabited by those who function without the basic knowledge most of us take for granted.

Now Kornegay is a volunteer for Reading Connections, a national organization that pairs volunteers with adults who want to learn to read and write.

Reading Connections is sponsoring The Incredible Reading Rally, a national event that raises awareness about adult literacy issues and generates money for literacy organizations.

During the Rally, which begins Monday, readers solicit pledges for the amount of reading (number of pages or books) they will read during the period from Feb. 23 to March 9.

``Our goal is to show people that reading is both fun and enriching,' says Cynthia Greenlee, community awareness coordinator.

The rally will use volunteers such as Thomas Barksdale, a Reading Connections volunteer who does educational consulting and dropout prevention and is holding a student/parent workshop for the rally.

Part of the rally's purpose is to recruit volunteers. Reading Connections tutors go through a 10-hour training session before being assigned to a student. In addition to training, the organization provides materials, monitors progress and offers encouragement to both tutor and student.

Many times, such as the case of volunteer Felicia Kornegay, the tutoring process is as rewarding for the tutor as it is for the student.

Kornegay had to quit work because of a back problem and was looking for a way to fill her days.

Then one morning, she heard about Reading Connections on WFMY-TV's ``The Good Morning Show.'

Coincidentally, the student she would be tutoring was watching the same show.

For Kornegay, the pairing was nothing less than divine.

The two meet twice a week for a total of about five hours. Kornegay helps the student learn basic words, word patterns and sounds and helps her with business transactions.

The student gives Kornegay the inspiration to keep going even though she's in pain.

``It's been a blessing,' Kornegay says. ``She motivates me and I motivate her.'

Kornegay's student didn't want to be identified because of possible repercussions on her job.

People who are illiterate or partially illiterate often hide their situation because it's embarrassing or because employers look down on people with little or no reading skills.

Kornegay's student found this out the hard way. She was fired from a job because her employer accused her of falsifying her application. In reality, she had responded inaccurately to a yes or no question because she couldn't read the question.

But through Reading Connections and Kornegay, she's confident that one day she'll be able to accomplish her dream - getting an office job.

Before Reading Connections, ``her self-esteem was down in the pits,' Kornegay says of her student.

They're looking forward to attending the October Literacy Volunteers of America Conference in Houston.

Part of the money raised at the Incredible Reading Rally will help send people like Kornegay and her student to Houston.

``It's a really special conference,' Greenlee says.

For some special people.


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