Nonprofit improves Utah Valley citizens’ lives through reading

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Stephanie Leavitt tutors her student, Lorena. Leavitt has worked both as a volunteer and a project manager for Project Read. (Stephanie Leavitt)

Provo nonprofit Project Read has impacted thousands of people in Utah Valley by teaching adults to read.

Project Read, headquartered in the Provo City Library, has provided tutoring to about 100 people per year since it started in 1984, according to Project Read Office Manager Aleah Spencer. The program aims to change lives and provide opportunities through reading.

“They’re making a better life — not just for themselves, but for their children and their grandchildren,” said Project Read Executive Director Shauna Brown.

Brown has been with the program for over 17 years and said she has seen significant changes in the students she works with.

An experience Brown finds particularly memorable is a student who, through reading, improved not only her career, but also her health.

“She came to us in her 50s and was reading probably at a fourth-grade level,” Brown said.
“She weighed 341 pounds. One of the most important things for her to learn was how to read food labels, and she lost 181 pounds.”

Brown said after learning how to read, this student was able to take computer classes at UVU, giving her a new, marketable skill.

“It has changed her health; it has changed her employment; it has changed her relationships, just because of her confidence in herself,” Brown said. “Literacy is something that can be really embarrassing. It’s not something people can see. It’s not something you share.”

Brown said many, if not all, low-literacy adults do not lack reading skills because of laziness or lack of intelligence. Rather, she said their low literacy is due to family situations or illnesses in childhood — situations that caused them to fall behind at an early age and then have trouble catching up.

“Maslow’s hierarchy of needs says that if your physical needs or emotional needs are not met, you can’t worry about education, the letters of the alphabet or that sort of thing,” Brown said.

According to Project Read Project Manager Stephanie Leavitt, the organization provides both group tutoring and one-on-one sessions. Tutoring is tailored to the individual needs of the students.

A group of Project Read students work together at a group tutoring session. (Shauna Brown)

Leavitt said she has seen the lives of families completely change as her students gain the skills they need to improve their lives. She said the experience impacts her just as much as those she teaches.

“I love the work. I love seeing the difference it makes in the lives of the students,” Leavitt said. “I can’t say enough about how the integrity and hard work of my students has touched my heart. I think I’m a little bit more compassionate, a little bit more informed and definitely inspired.”

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