Building a more literate Nassau

Literacy Nassau starts dyslexia program


Literacy Nassau, which has helped over 40,000 adults learn to read, write and speak English over the past 50 years, has outgrown its space in Freeport and is moving to Wantagh.

Executive Director Karen Micciche, who lives in Wantagh, said she was excited about the organization’s move to the grounds of St. Francis de Chantal Church in Wantagh, at the corner of Jerusalem and Wantagh avenues. It is renting a wing of classrooms in the school building behind the church, and Micciche designed the space herself.

“I love Wantagh . . .,” Micciche said. “This community is a fabulous community.”

Tutoring of students will begin at the new facility on Sept. 17. The nonprofit also plans to host a grand opening in November, with a luncheon, a keynote speaker, a ribbon cutting and tours of the new space. Micciche, who is working on the planning and logistics, said she hoped it would take place on Nov. 4, the same day as Literacy Nassau’s first annual Run/Walk fundraiser in Eisenhower Park.

Melissa Grote, of North Bellmore, said that the organization’s tutoring was a “perfect fit” for her daughter Julianna. “As soon as I contacted Karen,” Grote said, “I knew this was for us.”

All current Literacy Nassau classes will continue at the Freeport Memorial Library and Long Island Cares in Freeport.

Over the past year, Literacy Nassau launched a pilot dyslexia program with a grant from the John and Janet Kornreich Charitable Foundation. Dyslexia is a learning disability that affects children and adults. Those who have it have trouble breaking words down into simple sounds, according to Micciche. Students with dyslexia struggle to learn how sounds relate to letters and words, which leads to slow reading and poor comprehension.

Micciche is using the Orton-Gillingham method of teaching reading. Orton-Gillingham, developed in the early 20th century, encourages readers to use all of their senses as they process words on a page. A key component of Literacy Nassau’s dyslexia project will be training teachers in the method. The organization is now working with 15 students who have dyslexia, and plans to expand the program.

One in 10 Nassau County adults are illiterate, Micciche said. With 500 volunteers, Literacy Nassau is on mission to teach as many adults as possible to read, write and speak English. In total, the group is working with more than 1,000 students.

Beginner, intermediate and advanced classes are held throughout Nassau County, including at the Baldwin, Freeport, Roosevelt and Uniondale libraries. Each class meets for three to four hours a week and runs about 10 weeks. Students can spend up a year or more in the program, depending on how quickly they learn.

“I’ve seen my students bike to get to class,” said Sandy Pesce, an English as a Second Language teacher who runs beginner and intermediate classes. “They’re so committed to our classes, and I love seeing their excitement as they start to learn how to read and speak.”

Ten years ago, Johnny Gilchrist, now 75, from Roosevelt, visited the center in the hope of improving his reading skills. Growing up in rural Alabama, he struggled with reading and decided to go straight to work. Years later, he decided he needed to improve his reading and writing, and enrolled in classes at the center.

“I’ve learned as much as I could,” Gilchrist said. “But I knew this was something I had to do for myself.”

Gilchrist helps coordinate Literacy Nassau’s Next Chapter book clubs, which help adults with reading, writing and developmental disabilities. Like the classes, the reading and writing clubs meet at local libraries or designated locations throughout Nassau.