A literacy project in Clearwater is making effective learning possible and achieving results
lliteracy is a stark reality for many in Florida. The United States Department of Education reported that 60 percent of all 4th graders read below grade level, and for Florida, literacy ranks the lowest in the entire country.
Such statistics have far-reaching impact. Many of those who cannot read or write are thus unable to hold a job and resort to a life of crime. Seventy percent of Florida’s prison population is functionally illiterate.
Following the results of a 1999 survey of local business leaders, who said that “the quality of the school system was the biggest obstacle to economic development in the county,” the Pinellas County Commission decided to focus on literacy.
“In order for us to create the kind of community we want to create, everybody is going to have to be involved in education,” said Commission Chairman Calvin Harris.
Yet, despite attention from state and federal level government agencies, little progress has been made in handling the problem.
At the grass-roots level, however, there are workable solutions. The Clearwater chapter of the World Literacy Crusade is making significant progress in handling illiteracy among children and adults in Pinellas County.
The World Literacy Crusade was born in the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
Surrounded by devastation, Baptist minister Alfreddie Johnson decided to do something that would make a difference in the lives of residents in Compton, an inner-city community in Los Angeles County. After working for years with homeless adults and gang members, he realized he did not have all the tools he needed to win the battle against crime and violence.
Within days of the riots, Rev. Johnson was introduced to the study technology of author and humanitarian, L. Ron Hubbard. He began using Mr. Hubbard’s methods, saw immediate results and was determined to get the word out. What started as one program has since grown to 35 on five continents.
While Mr. Hubbard is widely recognized as the founder of the Scientology religion, his secular developments in the field of education are used by individuals and organizations of all creeds and persuasions the world over. Scientologists and many others support programs that use Mr. Hubbard’s methods because they get results.
“From teens to elderly, illiteracy is the root cause for many societal ills,” said Oscar-winning composer, musician and international spokesperson for the Crusade, Isaac Hayes.
Since its grand opening in October 1998, the Clearwater chapter — known as the World Literacy Crusade of Florida — has helped hundreds of residents, young and old alike, gain literacy or improve their learning skills.
In October 2000, the World Literacy Crusade of Florida was one of the organizations in the Tampa Bay area to be presented with a grant of $10,000 from Verizon’s “Tampa Bay Reads” program by Governor Jeb Bush. The grant was repeated in November 2001 at an event sponsored by the University of South Florida’s College of Education and officiated by the Florida Secretary of Education, Jim Horne.
Tyrone Booze was 40 when he decided to go to the World Literacy Crusade. A boxer who once fought the best of the best, including Evander Holyfield in 1983, he reached the apex of his career when he won the cruiser weight championship in 1992.
But boxing could not last forever, and when several bad decisions in his life and poor financial management left him facing grim prospects, Tyrone had to start over.
After getting a job as a laborer, he realized while he was on medical leave in June 1999 for a work-related injury that his new job had too uncertain of a future. What if he were unable to sustain his health? What would happen as he grew older? What about his family?
As luck would have it, Tyrone found out about the World Literacy Crusade, enrolled and began a rapid improvement of his literacy skills. He was so improved, in fact, that in October 2000 he was awarded the “Literacy Initiative Award for Adult Learning” from Tampa Bay Reads.
Tyrone’s success also drew the attention of the Professional Golf Association (PGA) tour and the story of his boxing career and literacy battles was featured on NBC on December 16, 2001 in a Christmas special for the tour.
“It has been a wonderful experience to meet so many positive people who are trying to make the world a better place,” he said. “I thank all the people at the World Literacy Crusade who contributed to my success.”
And Tyrone wants to give back. He is starting a program called “Smart Fighter” in which he will teach kids how to box and tutor them at the World Literacy Crusade as well — one hour of tutoring to every two hours of boxing.
The Community Learning Center of the World Literacy Crusade of Florida was started by Holly Haggerty, a mother of three who moved to the Clearwater area from Washington, D.C. six years ago. The driving force behind the continually growing program, Haggerty summed up her motivation:
“There is nothing more pleasurable than helping an individual gain the skill to read and understand,” said Haggerty. “In these troubled times, I have become even more motivated because I see how much we need to improve communication between people in our world. The ability to read and understand is key to communication, and we must ensure every individual possesses these skills.”
Those involved in the literacy program point to the successful results, which they attribute to L. Ron Hubbard’s educational methods.
“I have noticed a big improvement in the individuals they have been working with,” said Gina Morrow, director of the King’s Highway Recreation Center, a community hub for many residents of the Greenwood neighborhood in Clearwater.
The World Literacy Crusade is a non-profit, volunteer organization. For help or for information about becoming a volunteer, call (727) 441-4444.