2010 NACo Achievement Award

You Can Make a Difference as a County of Orange Volunteer!

National Association of Counties (NAC0)
2010 Achievement Award
OC Community Resources/OC Public Libraries


READ JRBegun in 1970, the NACo Annual Achievement Award recognizes innovative county government programs. Awards are given in a number of program categories such as arts & historic preservation, children & youth, community development, county administration, emergency management, environmental protection, health, human services, libraries, parks & recreation and volunteers.

"In spite of the difficult challenges this tough economy has presented us with, County departments have sought creative and more efficient ways to do business," said Supervisor Janet Nguyen, Chair of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. "This type of innovation is what keeps Orange County moving forward."

Pictured from left to right Shenikka Barnes, Rebecca Braun, Barbara Neder & Matthew Le, Administrator of Adult Literacy, Read OC


Low literacy adults often have a difficult time helping their children succeed in school, making those children much more likely to face reading difficulties of their own. READ Jr. is a family literacy program in which volunteer tutors work with parents and children together to help break the intergenerational cycle of illiteracy. High school students act as tutors to be a reading role model for the children, demonstrating that fun and learning can be synonymous. The parents participate in all of the tutoring activities so that they can learn strategies to assist their children on their own. In this way, the children get help with their reading, writing, and homework, while their parents learn how to become involved in their children’s learning.

Need for the Program:

READ Jr. developed from a need perceived by the tutors and learners of Read OC, the adult literacy services of the OC Public Libraries. One of the top priorities for many of the program's adult learners is to be able to help their children with their homework. For many, that was the primary reason why they decided to seek reading help.

Take the story of “JD”, an adult learner who originally came to Read OC to get help with her own reading and writing. JD was forbidden to go to school in her own country, and like many adult learners, she wanted her kids to have better opportunities than she had. Although she was able to send her kids to school in the US, JD had trouble helping her son with his schoolwork because of her own struggles to read. JD’s son was falling behind, and she didn’t know how to help. Her story is echoed by dozens of other adult learners each year.

The children of adult non-readers are often at a disadvantage with relation to their peers because their parents aren’t able to act as reading role models or help their kids with their schoolwork. Although school readiness programs, homework help programs, and after school programs strive to catch at risk students or students who are already struggling, these solutions often rely heavily on support from the parents. If the parents themselves lack the reading ability to help, they are left with nowhere to turn for their children. It is crucial to catch these children early before they fall too far behind their classmates and sink into the same pattern of illiteracy that their parents have struggled with throughout their lives.

Program Description:

READ Jr. is specifically designed to break the intergenerational cycle of illiteracy by targeting the grade school aged children of adult learners. Each of the parents involved in READ Jr. is an adult with low literacy skills. Some are native English speakers who struggle with their own reading and writing. Others are speakers of another language, who may or may not be literate in their native tongue. All are working with their own separate adult tutor to improve their reading, writing, and English skills. And all have a child between the ages of six and twelve who needs more help in school than their parents can give them.

Each family is matched with a high school student who volunteers to tutor the child in reading and writing. Together they practice reading aloud, working on homework assignments, completing writing and spelling activities, and playing learning games. The tutoring is always aimed at the children’s individual skill level, interests, and needs.

To a casual observer, it may look like the tutor is just helping the child, but in reality the parent is involved in each and every activity. Not only does the parent discreetly practice their own literacy skills, they also get a chance to participate in teaching their child. The tutor models strategies for helping the children with their school work. They show how learning can be fun. The child sees that learning is important to their parents, and begins to put a bigger emphasis on reading and learning. The child gains not one, but two new reading role models: a tutor they can relate to as a peer, and their very own parent who will continue to work with them and support their learning throughout their life.

READ Jr. is a ground-breaking program rooted in the community and growing out of a collaboration between county staff and volunteers. READ Jr. has been operational since the summer of 2008 and continues to grow steadily. So far, the program has reached over thirty adult learners and their children with family literacy services. Although county staff provides training, resources, and technical support for the tutors, the direct service to the learners is provided by our dedicated young volunteers.

Results/Successes of the Program:

The success of READ Jr. can be measured in the students’ increased confidence and achievement, as well as their parents’ sense of pride in being able to contribute to those achievements. READ Jr. tutors have reported seeing improvements in their learners’ self-reliance, reading comprehension, writing, and enjoyment of reading, among several other factors. Parents have reported that their children’s grades have improved dramatically. Perhaps most importantly, parents have reported that they are reading with their children more, becoming more active in their children’s school, and becoming a bigger part of their children’s learning.

The results of READ Jr. are perhaps best seen through the eyes of one family. In less than a year of working with a READ Jr. tutor, JD’s son went from a shy child struggling in school to a bright, successful, and confident student. JD herself proudly displays photos of her son smiling as he holds up a completed school project. The whole family has come a long way from where they started before they met their tutor.

Worthiness of an Award:

As an innovative solution to a common problem, READ Jr. is worthy of recognition through an Achievement Award. The program has been able to reach a new population that was previously overlooked and invisible: the low literacy children of low literacy adults. READ Jr. has been able to fill the gap between school learning and learning at home when the parents can’t help. Furthermore, this program provides new services with very little additional resources. It is a grassroots program by county staff and volunteers, for county residents, building off of and expanding on the strengths of existing county programs.

Congratulations to READ Jr. for the distinguished honor of being selected as a recipient of the NACo 2010 Achievement Award!