BANGOR, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — According to the Department of Education, 36 million American adults cannot read or write above a third-grade level, which might make it difficult to mark up a ballot on Election Day.
The Literacy Volunteers of Bangor worked to change that Saturday by hosting a “Tool Kit for Tutors” event.
Mary Lyon, the nonprofit's executive director, says the ballot box is an intimidating place if you don't read well.
“I mean, I have difficulty reading parts of those tough referendum questions and understanding them,” she said.
But there's a solution, Lyon says.
“Some people think that their votes don't matter, but we know that every vote matters and this is the one way you can exercise your voice when you may not feel like you have one,” Lyon said.
With the help of more than 400 volunteer tutors, dozens of Maine adults are overcoming their literacy challenges and in time for the big election.
As a resource center, the Literacy Volunteers program offers the easy-to-read Voter Guide which breaks down difficult political jargon. But the tutors, Lyon says, are the real heroes here.
“They really hold some of the key pieces that can really help spark the learning for adults who come through their doors,” she said.
After retiring from 26 years of teaching, JoAnne Rollins’ love for helping others inspired her to become a volunteer tutor.
“I learn from them as much as they learn from me,” and there’s no greater reward than seeing her students succeed, she said. “And now she has goals of finishing high school and going on to afterschool and she can do that … she can do that. It's nice to be the one to set her on that path.”
“People who are reluctant to come forward and ask for help feel like they're the only ones … they're the only ones that have this issue, they feel singled out, and they may feel ashamed or frustrated by the situation, but you are not alone,” Lyon said.
And it's never too late, she said, to seek help.
There's also the option to have another person read or mark the ballot for you on Election Day. To become a tutor or seek literacy help, click here.