United Way, Mid-State Literacy Council create ‘happier, healthier lives’

January 21, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Imagine not being able to read your child a bedtime story.

Imagine visiting your child’s school for a parent-teacher conference and not being able to converse with the teacher.

Imagine going to the doctor and not being able to communicate what’s wrong with your body.

These are the kinds of challenges that the Mid-State Literacy Council (MSLC) are empowering Centre County community members to overcome through the support of the Centre County United Way, and the support of Penn State’s United Way campaign.

Literacy for lifelong success

When Xuhui Liu first moved to the area with her family a year and a half ago, the transition to life in a new country seemed daunting. Learning to speak English posed an especially big challenge, one that kept her from doing all the things she wanted to do as a mother.

Now, thanks to classes and lessons at the Mid-State Literacy Council, she’s able to read her daughter to sleep every night. “Tom Thumb” and “Red Riding Hood” are two of her daughter’s favorites, and seeing that light in her daughter’s eyes when they read together makes it all worthwhile.

“The language is very, very important for me, for all the international families. They gave me the chance to learn,” Liu said. “Before, when I needed to take my daughter to see the dentist, I needed the translation service. Now I don’t. This has been very useful — it’s important.”

It’s easy to overlook all of the ways that literacy impacts one’s day-to-day life. According to the MSLC, approximately 11 percent of Centre County’s adult population is functionally illiterate. Functional illiteracy can manifest in many ways: not being able to read the instructions on a medicine bottle, struggling to pass a written driver’s test, failing to keep track of one’s household finances. The MSLC helps Centre County residents, both native and non-native speakers, overcome all of these challenges and more, providing a critical service that helps elevate clients’ quality of life.

“Here at Mid-State, I believe that the students leave with knowledge and skills that will help them for the rest of their life,” said Jillian Zablocki, a Penn State student and MSLC tutor. “I think they also leave with the sense of belonging to a place, a sense of community with others who are going through the same experience. That’s really valuable.”

Happier, healthier lives through literacy

Zablocki, a senior majoring in immunology and infectious disease, helps teach a series of popular lessons on women’s health. These sessions cover information that many native English speakers might take for granted — how to navigate the American health insurance system, words to describe different kinds of pain, the English names of different parts of the body. For someone still learning the language, these tools can help transform a doctor’s visit from a seemingly insurmountable challenge into a manageable errand.

For Hannah Kahn, another Penn State student who volunteers her time as a tutor, it’s difficult to overstate the impact that these courses have had on the lives of the women who take them. Being able to communicate with a doctor or read instructions for a prescription can literally be the difference between life and death.

“When it comes to health literacy especially, not having that knowledge can lead to so many bad effects,” Kahn said. “Through the community’s generosity and the support of the United Way, making sure we have the resources to teach people the words they can use to advocate for themselves and their health, it really is saving lives.”

Galina Rumyantseva, a native Russian speaker, is one of the women who has benefitted from these lessons.

“I attended English classes to be able to visit the doctor. I learned a lot of new words and sentences,” she said. “These lessons are very useful for those learning English. Now I can go to the doctor and speak with him.”

Seeing the impact that she’s been able to have on people’s lives by volunteering, Kahn said why she supports the United Way is simple.

“When you give to the United Way, you give people an opportunity to live a happier and healthier life.”

Learn more about how you can support the Centre County United Way at UnitedWay.psu.edu.

Last Updated January 21, 2019