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Lafayette County Literacy Council hosts Adult Education Ceremony

The Lafayette County Literacy Council and Oxford First United Methodist Church hosted their fourth annual adult education ceremony last night, as part of the ABLE adult education program.

ABLE, which stands for Adult Basic Literacy Education, is a service that pairs “learners” with “coaches,” who provide everything the learner needs to pass their high school equivalency tests or simply improve their basic literacy skills. The program is open to any Lafayette County resident who is above the age of 18 and needs to obtain their GED, pass a workplace test or even a driver’s license test. There is a $15 registration fee, but all other services are free for the learner.

Barbara Wortham, Program Coordinator for ABLE, says the program aims to help more people in the community improve their quality of life through education.

“ABLE began as a program to help adults increase their basic reading skills and later added a high school equivalency component,” Wortham said. “Our goals are to encourage adults in our community to become better readers and to provide an avenue for attaining better employment and educational opportunities for adults in the Lafayette County area.”

One of the highlights of the night was a $5,000 donation made by 2nd Chance Mississippi, a statewide nonprofit based out of Oxford that raises money and awareness for adult education and workforce training programs for lower income adults in Mississippi. Zach Scruggs, Executive Director of 2nd Chance Mississippi, says the funds for the grant will go towards wraparound support for ABLE participants.

“Because we’re headquartered in Oxford, we thought we’d like to do something here. I was meeting with the pastor, Chris Diggs, about three months ago, and I asked him, ‘What can we do?’” Scruggs said. “Most, if not all, of the learners that they work with are lower-income. Any little hurdle that wouldn’t stop some people would sidetrack the learners’ whole program. Wraparound support is what we provide to help programs like ABLE do what they’re doing even better.”

The donation will go towards paying testing fees for learners, which can reach over $100, providing food, childcare, gas cards for good attendance and incentives for those who complete their high school equivalency tests. The group also plans to set some funds aside for those in need.

Approximately 4,300 people in Lafayette County do not have a high school diploma or equivalent certificate. Sarah McLellan, director of the Lafayette County Literacy Council, says the goal of ABLE and other GED programs, like those at Northwest Mississippi Community College and WIN Job Center, is to put a dent in that number. What sets ABLE apart is the personalized non-classroom approach for each learner.

“I think a lot of people do better just one-on-one,” McLellan said. “We meet at the library or the church, and the learners and coaches become friends through all this, and guide each other through it. We have a lot of retirees who want to coach, a lot of couples and in the past year, college students as well.”

The most recent GED recipient from the program is Chauncey Pegues. Pegues is a mother, has a full time job and, most recently, began cosmetology school after obtaining her high school equivalency certificate. Pegues says she is proud to have accomplished this goal and hopes others are led to do the same.

“I tell everyone about this program. It doesn’t matter what age you are, what you have going on in your life, everyone should be willing to better themselves,” she said. “Motivation is the key. Can’t no one motivate you like you can. We have to want it to pave the way, even to show our kids what they can achieve.“

Scruggs says the next goal for 2nd Chance Mississippi’s role in helping ABLE and other adult education programs expand is spreading the word to people. He says there is an abundance of coaches and plenty of room for more learners.

“A big factor is going out to the churches. We have an excess of educational capacity in this town,” he said. “There’s no reason why we can’t take that 4,300 and shake it up a little bit and get more bodies in the door.”

Those interested in joining the program as a learner or a coach can call the literacy council at 662-234-4234.