LOGAN—Eight percent of Cache Valley is functionally illiterate, said Jami Wardell, chairwoman of the board of the nonprofit Bridgerland Literacy. That is nothing to laugh about; except for tonight.Wardell, chairwoman since January of the re-formed organization dedicated to helping members of the community who are illiterate, said being functionally illiterate is not just a problem in third-world countries. The term describes those who are below an eighth-grade reading level.”Literacy is an issue here, but it is very taboo. I know people who’ve gone through the majority of their life and no one around them ever knew they couldn’t read,” Wardell said. “People learn how to cope like listening better and they have a better memory and they learn differently. But they have to work a lot harder to get and maintain a job.”The organization provides free services, such as one-on-one tutoring, ESL classes, English conversation classes, GED tutoring and a literacy lab. But keeping the services free is why Bridgerland Literacy is asking the community to the fundraising event “Laugh for Literacy” tonight.The event is family-friendly and will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Logan Arthouse, Wardell said. Local comics – such as Jordan Brown, Mike Grover and Casey Peterson – are donating their humor so ticket proceeds will go to Bridgerland Literacy. Tickets can be purchased at the door, $8 for the general public and $6 for students. Bridgerland Literacy receives some grant-funding from the United Way, but the majority of their funds come from fundraisers in the community. The organization was started 24 years ago in the home of a volunteer and was eventually moved to the Logan Library with the help of former library director Ronald Jenkins.Last fall, the nonprofit learned it did not have enough money to continue in its capacity due to Logan City cutting their funding, which was about $20,000 annually. The city has eliminated such funding under a law that says nonprofits should not receive money from the city for more than three continuous years.After closing its doors to the public for a short time last fall, the nonprofit reorganized under the Bridgerland Applied Technology College in Logan, including a new board and chair.”The people at the helm were tired, and it had been a long haul,” Wardell said. “We needed some new blood and someone else to take the reins, and I offered to do it. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve not regretted it. I’ve doubted myself, but I’ve got a great board and I remind myself why I’m doing it, and it helps me go forward.”The nonprofit is still in the process of obtaining a full board as well as tutor volunteers. Wardell said no special skills are needed, but someone who can give a few hours a week of their time and effort. The organization provides tutor-training, and Utah State University students can potentially get school credit for being a tutor.Those who need help learning to read and converse in English can get help any time, Wardell said. The help is free and confidential, and the learning is based on goals the student sets, not the tutor.Wardell became a volunteer last year after learning about the organization while working for the nonprofit United Way campaign. While she was donating monthly contributions from her paycheck, she felt she needed to do more and became a tutor.”I’ve been tutoring since I was in the fourth grade. It started with my grandfather when I found out he couldn’t read,” Wardell said. “It was really earth shattering to me because you take for granted things that adults can do. They can read and they can drive.”After Wardell’s grandfather started getting tutoring from a local library in Idaho, Wardell saw how ashamed he was to have to do so, and he quit because of it.”But we brought the workbooks home, and I taught him how to read. It was something that came easy to me, and it was the first experience I had with tutoring, he was everything to me, and I thought I could have a little bit of that satisfaction again doing this,” Wardell said.She said people need to understand that learning to read is a slow process, not instant gratification, but the reward is watching students gain confidence as their abilities increase.”I know it seems like it is something that shouldn’t be a problem because of our education system, but with teachers having so many students and responsibilities these days, some people just fall through the cracks. I want people to know that this organization is here for them,” Wardell said.Continuing fundraising efforts are always underway. Currently, the public can take their recyclable metals to Valley Metals in Logan and ask to have the money donated to Bridgerland Literacy. The company will also make a small donation on top of that.The annual ‘Scrabble Scramble’ is scheduled for the Jan. 27. Teams compete for prizes in the word game Scrabble, and proceeds from tickets and donations go to Bridgerland. Those interested in articipating can call the Bridgerland office for more information at 435-750-3218.
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