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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

READ/RUN a great way to support literacy volunteers in Saratoga Springs and capital region

People come through time and again when there are neighbors — or strangers — in need. Even in tough economic times, individuals step up when government funding is cut back.
And when there’s a way to get actively involved in a fun way, that’s all the better. Now more than ever, grassroots fundraising events rely on increased community participation and support.
Take, for instance, Literacy New York Greater Capital Region, the local branch of what used to be called Literacy Volunteers of America — and its June 13 fundraising Read/Run in Saratoga Springs.
The group provides free services for about 400 students of varying ages in Saratoga, Warren, Washington, Albany and Schenectady counties with an annual budget of $450,000 … er, make that $390,000. Its total annual budget has just been cut by more than 13 percent, because the state has cut its funding for the organization by almost 40 percent, which is roughly $60,000. United Way continues to be a major revenue source.
The state aid reduction is tough to argue with given the state of the state’s budget. But it makes operating all the more challenging for the literacy group — as well as countless other nonprofits that depend at least in part on public funding.
Cutbacks force organizations to think creatively about ways to share resources and avoid duplication of effort. The Literacy group is no stranger to that concept. It’s been a while since the individual countywide literacy groups merged into regional entities, thus reducing administrative expenses.
About a quarter of the current students live in Saratoga County. Most are people trying to obtain the GED; others are trying to find a job, keep a job or get a better job. Even with its existing budget, the literacy group has students on waiting lists and don’t expect to be able to create more matches until the fall at the earliest. More than 30 people are waiting for tutoring in Saratoga County; the organization tries to push up on the list those who are preparing for their GED.
Tutors volunteer their time, but there’s still the administrative cost involved in assessing student needs, setting up their programs, training tutors and ongoing supervision of the matches. And besides help with reading, there is a lot of training in English as a second language as well as tutoring in math and financial literacy.
The beauty of next Sunday’s Read/Run is that it ties in with its mission, has a broad, family-oriented appeal, raises awareness for the group, and involves a lot of people. More than 80 volunteers include literacy tutors, Girl Scouts, retired teachers, National Honor Society students and employees of area libraries, SEFCU, State Farm, Banana Republic and other businesses. There will be cartoon characters and characters from literature along the route. The Saratogian is proud to be the media sponsor.
While funding for Literacy New York and other agencies decreases, the demand for their services is on the rise. Literacy programs are an excellent investment. But while the programs are free, it costs money to provide them.
As Nancy Holzman, coordinator of the June 13 event and director of Resource and Community Development for the group, notes, the gap left by government cuts means grassroots fundraising events are more and more critical to the survival of community nonprofits. Support, she says, can take many forms: financial sponsorship, donations goods and services, volunteerism and — last but not least — event participation.
You can do any of those for the Literacy New York Read/Run. Go to to find out how.


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