Another View: ‘Read to Me, Grandpa!’

By: Linda Frederick Yaffe
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Lewis' 2-year-old granddaughter thrust a book into his hands: "Please read me this story, Grandpa!" But Lewis was speechless ... because he couldn't read.

Lewis is 66 years old. A devoted family man, he has worked hard all of his life, harder than most people ... because he couldn't read. Telling lies – to hide his embarrassing lack of reading skills –  was a way of life. He had managed to bluff his way through his working years, cleverly charming his workmates and supervisors. It wasn't easy. Every workday he faced frightening challenges. Given paperwork to read and sign, he'd tell his boss he needed "to look it over more carefully" and "return it later," or he would ask a co-worker, "what does this say? I've forgotten my glasses."

During his working years, while his children were growing up, he had found plenty of excuses for his kids when they asked, "Daddy, can you help me with my homework?" Lewis had put them off every time: "ask your mother to help you," or "my eyes are tired; I've been working all day." But now, as a retiree slumped in his easy chair watching television, Lewis could not find any more excuses. At that moment, seeing his granddaughter's eager face as she opened the book, he wanted to read to her. He knew that sharing a book would create special grandpa-granddaughter memories for her. This was Lewis decisive moment: He would finally ask for help. He would learn to read.

Shockingly, one in five Americans – Americans whose first language is English – cannot read. In California, the problem is even more pronounced: 23 percent of Californians, adults whose first language is English, do not have the skills needed to complete a simple one-page job application. Non-readers come from every age group and socioeconomic background. They might be someone you know well ... or an individual you are meeting for the first time. The inability to read is a hidden problem. It is often unnoticed (even by family, friends or employers). More than a personal disability for the non-reader, society is heavily impacted as well. Nationally, non-readers cost billions of dollars in lack of productivity in the workforce, crime and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment.

You can help improve literacy skills in our communities. When you notice someone with poor – or nonexistent – reading, grammar or spelling skills, gently encourage them to call for help. Tell them they can learn to read at their own pace with convenient, confidential, one-on-one free reading help from Placer Adult Literacy Service, a Placer County Library program since 1986. Encourage them to call PALS: (530) 886-4530 or (530) 320-3267. Your help as a volunteer is always welcome.

And you can help by joining the Literacy Support Council of Placer County, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization helping PALS "spread the word" for more than 20 years. Join us as an active member: become a volunteer Reading Booster. Reading Boosters support PALS: They organize and speak out for literacy. The Literacy Support Council of Placer County is a United Way Partner; give through United Way at your workplace, CA Capitol Region, Literacy Support Council of Placer County ID#3061. Or mail your tax-deductible contributions directly to the Literacy Support Council of Placer County, P.O. Box 5291, Auburn CA 95604; email us at; or "like" us on Facebook:

Your gifts help give Placer County adults like Lewis the gift of reading ... and lift up their lives, their families and our communities.