The South Texas Literacy Coalition has moved into a new space five times the size of where they started, making way for even more students to develop a taste for recreational reading.
The 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, started about 11 years ago, used to operate out of a 400 sq. ft. space off of Highway 107 and Jackson Rd. This Monday afternoon, they held a ribbon cutting for their 2,200 sq. ft. offices at 2526 Freddy Gonzalez Dr. in Edinburg.
“Literacy affects every aspect of our life,” Jonathon Vasquez, the Associate Director of the South Texas Literacy Coalition, said. “Not just in being able to write an essay for college or a scholarship, but on a day-to-day basis.”
Prior to the ribbon cutting Dr. Ida Acuña-Garza, the Chief Executive Officer of the South Texas Literacy Coalition, noted that the organization distributes 60,000 books to families in the region every year. Supported by generous donors, the group accepts funds in order to buy families and children new books in order to promote the importance of reading not just for work, but for pleasure.
“We want children to develop that love of reading because if they can do that, they can do well in all subjects,” Acuña-Garza said. “We want our community partners to be involved and know that every penny that we raise stays right here.”
The non-profit covers 13 counties in South Texas, and their small but determined staff and interns provide resources to the communities themselves. Vasquez mentioned that culturally, stressing the importance of being literate is necessary in South Texas.
“[It can be] something as simple as taking one of your parents, or your uncles or your aunts, to the doctor where they need to get detailed information about what’s wrong with them or what they need to be doing,” Vasquez said. “It’s understanding the medication, and simple things like that that a lot of people take for granted. It’s a very, very important part of life.”
According to the organization’s website, 41 percent of the population South of San Antonio “is at some rate of illiteracy.” They hope to tackle the issue by creating opportunities for “literacy outreach programming through community partnerships” that will in turn create a more literate populous.
“A lot of the stuff we do is opportunity-based,” Vasquez explained, saying their original five-person staff had trouble reaching all 13 counties, which led them to collaborating with other organizations and creating community festivals. “You’re talking about hundreds of thousands of families, and it’s very difficult to serve them all – even though we do.”
They tend to focus on early intervention by reaching out to the youth in the community.
“The idea behind it is: if you can teach a kid to read, enjoy reading and get excited about opening up a book and learning something new, everything for the rest of their life when it comes to learning is just going to come so much easier and so much more natural,” Vasquez said. “The comprehension comes more naturally, and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”
The new space includes storage for their inventory of new books to be given away, and office space so they can operate and continue the expansion of their efforts. The staff paused their two-week holiday vacation to make the move possible in time for the start of 2020.
“We got really big overnight as far as inventory and donations go,” Vasquez said. “From one day to the next, we made the decision to move before the new year.”
“It encompasses every aspect of life, whether it’s workforce, education, or just trying to get by,” Vasquez said, adding they also like to feature authors from the region at their events. “If we can reinforce a kid’s interest, it goes a long way.”
Supporters, members of the staff, interns, representatives from the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce and the nonprofit’s board were all present at the ribbon cutting. The South Texas Literacy Coalition will be holding their annual Literacy Symposium at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s FESTIBA 2020 on Feb. 22.
This article originally appeared in the Friday Jan. 10, 2020 issue of the Progress Times.