The Scotland County Literacy Council has brought a new outreach coordinator on board to promote the council as a place to bring together adult learners with tutors who can help them gain vital job skills.
Gene Palmer, originally from New York City, moved to North Carolina five years ago, retiring from his real estate business in New York to accompany his wife to her new position at UNC-Pembroke.
After three months, he found retirement to be an unsuitable occupation, and soon started work again as a real estate agent in Moore County. Seeking to fill more of his time with pursuits more oriented toward community service, Palmer connected with Diana Altman, chair of the literacy council’s board of directors.
“I was searching amongst various nonprofits and the Chamber of Commerce to see if they knew of anyone who would be willing to work with us in that position for only a few hours a week, and I had no luck,” Altman said. “I happened to go to the senior center one day, and I mentioned it to the director. The secretary said that there was a gentleman in there the other day who said he would like to do something for the community and they handed me his card.”
Palmer was relatively unfamiliar with the problem of illiteracy within his New York business circles, but now that he calls Scotland County home, intends to combat the county’s 30 percent illiteracy rate.
“I see and hear people who can’t read or write, and at this stage of my life I realize that it’s time for me to try and do something to help change that,” Palmer said. “I know I’m not going to fix it, I know I’m not going to solve it, but there is a serious need out there. I see some of the students who come to the council now who are in their forties and their fifties and they are dedicated to learning, and I see them struggling, but they are there every day to try and make their lives better, and it’s a good thing.”
As a businessman, Palmer’s primary focus will be upon helping people to learn the requisite reading and writing skills to pass the Work Keys exam administered by Richmond Community College and subsequently find gainful employment.
“I spoke to one company’s HR director, and she has ten openings right now in her company,’” Palmer said. “She had a pile of applications on her desk, and not one of them could pass the Work Keys exam for those positions. She cannot fill those positions until they pass. A lot of companies are requiring their employees to do the Work Keys exam, and there’s a serious problem there because a lot of employees are doing their jobs, however they still can’t read or write well enough to pass that exam. Sometimes people will show up at RCC and they’re not prepared, so RCC will refer them back to us and we will help prepare them.”
Palmer was drawn to the literacy council because, by helping to improve reading, writing, math, and computer skills on the individual level, the council benefits the county overall.
“What I’ve done is I have contacted businesses and talked my way in as a proverbial salesman can do sometimes, and sat down with human resources directors to find out what their concerns and their needs are,” said Palmer. “We try to structure all of this to help solve their need. If that need is solved, not only does it take someone off the street and puts them into a job, it keeps the company happy here because they are filling jobs. If they can produce and they’re making money, that money goes back into the tax base.”
In addition to outreach to companies whose employees could benefit from tutoring, Palmer has distributed literature throughout Laurinburg to inform the community about the literacy council’s services, which are all provided free of cost.
The literacy council serves adult students of any age, and can also utilize the skills of volunteer tutors who feel they may be able to help someone learn basic reading or mathematical skills.
“If you’re 80 years old and can’t read, I still want to help you,” said Palmer. “But I’m more so looking at the individual who is 30 or 40 years old who still basically has a full life ahead of them that can’t get any better because they can’t pass a simple exam.”
For information about tutoring or literacy council services, call 276-7007.