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Pa. program promotes literacy

January 19, 1999

Melvin SnyderBy DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

photo: DON AINES




CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - As Melvin Snyder read from a book Tuesday, his voice was slow and halting, like a student reading aloud in front of his class.

Two years ago, the 50-year-old Chambersburg man couldn't read at all. That's when he came to the Franklin County Literacy Council.

The same determination Snyder has shown in learning to read is also evident in his efforts to raise money for the council through its "Buck A Book Week" program. Last year he raised $553, the most of any participant.

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He plans to top that next week.

"Rough" was how Snyder described his life before learning to read. "People called me stupid and dumb ... People ripped me off all the time," Snyder said.

"My goal is to get my GED, whether it takes five years or six years or 20 years," he said Monday at the Literacy Council's offices at 338 Lincoln Way East.

Despite having no reading experience and almost no math skills, Snyder managed to hold construction and janitorial jobs. He now works at the Scotland School for Veterans' Children.

Last year Snyder "beat on doors," finding sponsors in Franklin, Fulton and Huntingdon counties in Pennsylvania and Washington County, Md.

Raised in Hancock, Md., Snyder dropped out of school in the eighth grade. He got tired of people making fun of him, he said.

Part of his problem can be traced to a speech impediment, according to Stephanie Crawford, a Literacy Council program assistant and the Buck A Book coordinator.

He wasn't born with the impediment. As a young child, he was forced by a relative to drink lye, burning his vocal chords, he said.

Crawford said when Snyder was going to school four decades ago, learning disabilities were harder to diagnose. "Teachers just passed them along ... At the time, they weren't able to determine why they couldn't read," she said.

"Many of our students have learning disabilities," she added.

Crawford said the 103 students in the program range from the minimum age of 18 to people in their 70s.

The average age is about 40 and there are 15 people on the waiting list, she said. About 26,000 county adults need to improve their reading skills, according to council statistics.

The council has a staff of three and 88 volunteer tutors who work with the students one-on-one.

"We always need tutors," Crawford said. She noted there is a tutor training orientation on Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon at the center.

The Buck A Book program last year raised $22,000 for literacy programs, Crawford said. This year it runs from Jan. 25-31.

Students at 28 schools and employees at a number of businesses are taking part, raising money by recruiting sponsors to donate money for every book they read during the week.

Once again this year, inmates at Franklin County Prison are participating. Crawford said 50 prisoners took part last year and the prison donated $218, a buck for every inmate.

Incentives for participants range from free pizzas and french fries to tickets to Orioles games and Hershey Park, Crawford said. The top fund-raiser will get to have lunch with country music star David Kersh, courtesy of WAYZ, she said.

Don't bet against Snyder, who has pledged to read five books during the week.

Snyder, who also volunteers his time at the literacy council, wants people to take advantage of its free programs.

"I want to see people who dropped out come in here and get help," he said.

Information can be obtained by calling the Literacy Council at 1-717-267-2212.

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