Literacy Council volunteer finds joy in teaching reading

May 06, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Fran Wallace looks over the shoulder of adult student Kenny Carter. Wallace is a volunteer tutor with the Literacy Council of Washington County. The pair meet weekly and go over lessons that she has prepared.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

Some might say it's a coincidence.

Fran Wallace calls it divine intervention.

More than 30 years ago, the Hagerstown woman was working in a West End grocery store.

One of the customers, she said, was an individual who was physically handicapped and had a speech impediment.

"I was amazed at how independent he was, how he walked with two crutches, but was always in a good mood," she said. He was incredibly inspirational."

When she moved on to another job, Wallace never thought she would again cross paths with the man.

Until about a year ago.

As a volunteer with the Literacy Council of Washington County, Wallace was assigned to a potential student.

"I made the call, we chatted and arranged a meeting place," she said. "But when I hung up the telephone, something stopped me in my tracks. I knew I had heard that voice before. It was a voice you wouldn't easily forget. And I began to wonder if it could be the same man I knew all those years ago."

So Wallace said she did a redial "and somewhat awkwardly asked the gentleman if he used to go to a particular grocery store. He had. I asked if he used to walk with crutches. He had."

"I think it's so cool that we've had this opportunity to meet again," Wallace said. "It was meant to be. God has a purpose for me."

That purpose is to share the gift of literacy.

Once a week, Wallace and Kenny Carter get together to read.

Wallace said Carter had been in the literacy program before "but always got discouraged."

"I considered that a challenge," she said. "I've always been a people person and I was determined that, this time, I could help him stay committed."

They agreed to meet at the Washington County Free Library and Wallace said they embraced when they caught sight of each other.

"I knew instantly we would be a good combination," she said.

Wallace said she and Carter have been a tutor-student combo for about a year, using McDonald's as their classroom every Wednesday morning.

"Kenny can read to a point," she explained. "It's comprehension and writing that needs work."

"So, I bring books, we sit at a table, we get to work," she said.

Within a year, "Kenny has come so far," Wallace said. "I am so incredibly proud of what he has accomplished. He has notebooks filled with gold stars."

Wallace said she was a literacy volunteer for about five years while living in Chambersburg, Pa.

"When my husband and I moved to Hagerstown, I broke away from it for a while," she said. "But one day I came across some things I had kept from those years of volunteering and I decided to get involved again. As I said, it was meant to be."

Being a literacy volunteer is one of the most rewarding aspects of her life, Wallace said.

"I would recommend it to anyone. It's an incredible feeling when you look at a student's face and you know that he gets it — he understands. There's nothing like it."

Wallace said it's not just the learning process. It's the social bond that you develop with another individual.

"It's easy to become friends," she said. "And it's rewarding for both people involved."

According to the Literacy Council of Washington County, there are approximately 90 certified tutors presently working with students in both the basic reading skills program and the English as a Second Language (ELS) program.

There are students waiting for tutors.

"It might sound silly, but I feel like a rainbow. And Kenny is my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow," she said.

Over the years of volunteering with the literacy program, Wallace said she has met people who have wanted to learn to read so they could get their GED; people who wanted to be able to read street signs and fill out job applications; and people who simply wanted to be proud that they could read.

"To be a part of fulfilling their dream is very special," she said.

If you go ...

WHAT: The Literacy Council of Washington County's two-part spring tutor training workshop this month.

WHEN: Part one will be on Saturday, May 14, and part two is Saturday, May 21

WHERE: Trinity Lutheran Church, 15 Randolph Ave., Hagerstown.

CONTACT: Call 301-739-4208 or email at

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