Two librarians seeking a solution, English as a second language, writing about public art, health literacy, basic literacy, and citizenship. What do these have in common with one another? They all are affiliated with Blue Ridge Literacy. Founded in 1985 by two librarians, the mission of BRL is “to support achievement of life goals by providing opportunities to strengthen literacy skills to adults in western Virginia.”
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to join BRL and its learners, teachers, volunteers, and others as they celebrated the year’s achievements. There were stories read by the learners—one, a life-long resident of Roanoke who was learning so she could read the Bible; another, a learner from the Congo, so she could better communicate with her patients as a nurse assistant; and another from Panama, so she can better communicate with those she works alongside in her health care job. Each of these learners read from their own story, written as part of a collaboration with the Roanoke Arts Commission about the public art present in our community.
Writing from The Heart
For the 26th year, the learners prepared stories to showcase their learning and, in many instances, what their new community means to them. This collection includes stories of the Roanoke Star, Mill Mountain, and the Elmwood Artwalk. Amidst these are glimpses of challenges and celebrations, both big and small: Missing their home country—its food and their friends; the quiet and peacefulness of Roanoke; the beauty of nature that surrounds our City; getting a driver’s license; staying safe in the pandemic; and earning citizenship. Each of these stories represent an example of the diversity present in Roanoke that makes us such a vibrant and strong community.
Blue Ridge Literacy, its more than 100 volunteers, and 300 financial supporters work hard to achieve their mission of providing learners with functional literacy skills needed to achieve their life goals. More than 300 learners were served in FY20-21, representing 47 different countries. Through the help of BRL programs, 12 learners passed the necessary requirements and became new U.S. citizens. Recent programs have focused on not only basic literacy skills, but also health literacy and digital literacy. In the upcoming year, the opportunity to learn financial literacy through a partnership with the City of Roanoke’s Financial Empowerment Center will complement these efforts.
We are truly a welcoming community and the ongoing support of BRL, its staff, volunteers, and learners is but one example of this welcoming spirit in action!