READ/SAN DIEGO AND ITS PARTNERS
A network of small rural towns dots the mountainside where San Diego County meets the Mexican border. One of these, Campo, is home to 5,800 people, many of whom live in poverty. Despite the two-hour drive from its downtown San Diego headquarters, READ/San Diego has formed a close partnership with a local nonprofit organization, the Mountain Health and Community Services (MHCS), to bring literacy instruction to the residents of Campo and the surrounding Mountain Empire area.
The MHCS specializes in low-cost, high-quality health care for residents of Campo and nearby towns and operates three rural health clinics. The clinics focus on primary care, preventive services, and social services. In addition, the MHCS runs the Mountain Empire Community Center in Campo and offers nutritional services for senior citizens. Recognizing a great need for literacy and technology services in this isolated area, the MHCS obtained a grant from the San Diego Foundation in January 2001 to build a computer lab at the community center.
As part of the grant application process, MHCS staff brainstormed the best ways to use the computer lab and envisioned parents and children learning together using the new technology. MHCS staff then did some research and learned that READ/San Diego shared this exact vision in its family literacy programs. READ/San Diego agreed to become a partner, and MHCS added READ/San Diego's Families for Literacy program to the initial grant proposal.
The Families for Literacy program now takes place at the Mountain Empire Community Center and combines MHCS's current services with courses for adults and children. Staffed jointly by MCHS and READ/San Diego, the program targets parents with children aged five and under, providing early childhood and adult education. Together, children work on pre-literacy skills, such as vocabulary building and spelling, and adults strengthen their own reading, math, and language skills. MHCS purchased special software to supplement this component with educational games for families. The program also provides free children's books for families to take home each week.
In conjunction with the Senior Nutrition Program at the community center, MHCS also offers a computer course for seniors. This course focuses on basic computer operations, such as word processing, using the Internet, and sending e-mail. Anyone enrolled in either Families for Literacy or the computer class can use the computer lab during open hours. Staff at MHCS hope one day to connect with the local community college to offer distance-learning classes for Campo residents.
After an initial memorandum of understanding was signed, any changes in the MHCS program have been agreed upon with a handshake. "That is Campo," the partners say, "And that's the way people do things out here." Both partners are highly committed to the program. When the initial grant ran out, the partners came together to devise ways to continue their services. Members of READ/San Diego, according to the MHCS, cared deeply about the future of the program and pledged to keep it running. In the end, MHCS agreed to take on the financial responsibilities. READ/San Diego staff are "like friends," say their MHCS partners, who also list good communication and strong dedication as defining qualities of the partnership.
For now, READ/San Diego provides an instructor (one of the TLCs) and pays mileage for her travel from San Diego. MHCS buys course books and materials, and the community center donates the facility. However, the partners look forward to the construction of a new library in Campo to replace the present small one there. The partners expect the literacy program to move to the library, because they believe that "literacy belongs to the library and needs to be near books."