There was a lot of buzz at the Trident Literacy Association in March when the folks there learned they received a national grant from the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.

The $65,000 grant allows them to offer a multi-pronged family approach to literacy and education.

There's still excitement, but there's also a sense of bewilderment.

They would like to enroll up to 30 families in Families Learning Together, which meets at Celebration Station on Reynolds Avenue.

They even sent out a request for more participants a few weeks ago.

As Diette Courrege Casey reported Friday, they're having a hard time getting people to stick with the program.

“We can't seem to find that missing link to get the population to recognize this fabulous thing,” said Eileen Chepenik, executive director.

A targeted approach

There are 60,000 adults in the tri-county who have neither a high school diploma nor a GED. Chepenik said fewer than 7,000 of them are enrolled in any kind of literacy program through the schools or through her organization.

“Our challenge is to find these people and somehow figure out what it is that will inspire them to participate,” she said.

The thing is, they already found them, at least a group of them.

To get the grant, the association had to provide extensive documentation. It chose the Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood because the research showed there were hundreds of people within a mile who fit the criteria: the parents had no high school credentials and their children were preschool aged.

Publicity isn't necessarily the problem: TLA staff have visited elementary schools, churches, other neighborhood programs, and more.

“If we could figure it out, we would bend over backwards” to get them in the program, Chepenik said.

They're even offering $100 to the families who complete 100 hours of instruction.

Chipping away

Not unlike the Mother to Mother program, which saw its first graduates in June, Families Learning Together takes a comprehensive approach to literacy and learning.

The parents and children work separately in the morning, with parents working toward their GEDs and children working on school readiness. Then they work together for the final hour.

The program also includes guest speakers and instruction on health, financial and computer literacy.

It's a time commitment, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. four days a week. Families can start anytime. Nobody will be turned away.

Snacks are included, and everyone who was attending regularly last month got a free turkey dinner for Thanksgiving.

Breaking the cycle

Ideally, literacy begins at home. If a parent of a pre-school-age child has trouble reading, he or she is certainly less likely to read to the child. Without a foundation of reading built at home, the child is likely to start school behind his or her peers in terms of reading skills.

It's not hard to see how that same student might become a high school freshman who reads at a fourth-grade level, a well-documented problem in Charleston County schools.

It's a humbling thing to admit that you need help reading, but it's worth it for both the parents and the children. This is exactly the kind of program that can break the cycle of illiteracy, which in turn can help break the cycle of poverty.

If you or someone you know could benefit from the program, call Sandra Fraser at 576-9136.

The grant can be renewed next year, if the center gets 20 families to complete this year's program.

The next few months will help shape that decision. Hopefully participation will increase so even more people can benefit.