Ideas: Get Involved in a Family Literacy Program

This idea is excerpted from Barbara’s book “CARE Packages for the Home–Dozens of Ways to Regenerate Spirit Where You Live” (Andrews-McMeel, 1998)


One of the best ways to give respect to others is to help them learn to read and write. The whole family can become involved in a literacy program in your community.


In 1993 Yvette Gionnetti and Sr. Rachel Sena were asked to work with the large population of immigrant Mayan people in the Diocese of Palm Beach, Florida, when a group of the Mayan women asked to be taught to read and write so they could assist their school-age children with their studies. There are estimated to be 15,000-20,000 Maya families in Palm Beach County. Most of them work in the agriculture industry, often holding two or three jobs. While the men have had some formal education (through elementary school), 99% of the women are illiterate both in their native language, Q’anjob’al, and in Spanish. They speak no English.

In the Family Literacy Program they teach the mothers basic reading and writing skills in their native tongue and then move them into English as they are ready. They also host an early childhood education program, the Even Start Family Literacy Program, for their preschool children to prepare them to succeed in the public schools. The children learn in the same classroom as their mothers are learning to read and write. The children see their mothers modeling positive study habits while the mothers see their children across the room and are motivated to try just a little bit harder!

Miguel is shy. He clings to his mother, Isabel, when they come to the Family Literacy Center. He won’t play with the other children but tugs at Isabel’s blouse and whines. The child care worker knows what to do, however. She smiles and makes eye contact. Then, she brings him a stuffed bear to hug . . . it’s Curious George. The next day, she starts reading to two other children but near enough for Miguel to hear the story in Curious George Rides a Bike. Miguel drifts over to the group. He becomes an active participant for the rest of the year, while keeping an eye out to make sure his mother is still in the room, of course! Isabel relaxes and begins to learn to read and write, too.
In addition to the literacy training, they offer translation services for the families, transportation to and from the school, medical service support and referrals, home visits, parenting classes, and more, all through local agencies, organizations and individual volunteers from the community.

These are the people they serve:

Maria’s three children are sick, so she takes them to the doctor. The doctor prescribes different medications for each child. But, Maria can’t read the labels and unintentionally mixes up the medicines . . .

Juanita bends, stoops, and walks all day in the hot south Florida sun at her job at a wholesale nursery. From time to time, she’ll pause to sip some cool water out of a nearby hose. She and her husband are excited about their first child who will soon be born. But, when that child is born, he has severe physical handicaps . . . .Juanita could not read the sign by the hose that said the water was not potable.

Angela and Armando have saved their money so they can send a precious $200 to her parents back in Guatemala. She takes the money to a neighborhood store where the owner gives her what he calls a money order. She mails it. Later, she learns from her mother that the piece of paper was worthless. Angela has been cheated because she could not see that the man had simply handed her a piece of paper with senseless writing. She had no proof that she had ever given him her hard earned $200.

These are just a few of the consequences facing these hard-working families every day because of their illiteracy. The Family Literacy Program helps them overcome such adversities by teaching them to speak, read, and write.


I am sure there are similar programs in nearly every community. What a wonderful gift of respect you will be giving these folks by helping them learn to read, and if your family is involved, it will also impress your children with the privilege we have had to learn to read and write.

Barbara Glanz Biography

A member of the prestigious Speaker Hall of Fame and one of fewer than 700 Certified Speaking Professionals worldwide, Barbara Glanz, CSP, CPAE, works with organizations to improve morale, retention and service and with people who want to rediscover the joy in their work and in their lives. She is the first speaker on record to have spoken on all 7 continents and in all 50 states. Known as "the business speaker who speaks to your heart as well as to your head," Barbara is the author of twelve books including The Simple Truths of Service Inspired by Johnny the Bagger®, CARE Packages for the Workplace, and 180 Ways to Spread Contagious Enthusiasm™. Voted "best keynote presenter you have heard or used" by Meetings & Conventions Magazine, Barbara uses her Master’s degree in Adult Learning to design programs that cause behavior change. She lives and breathes her personal motto: “Spreading Contagious Enthusiasm™” and can be reached at and

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