We Eat. We Drink. But – Can We Read?

| May 18, 2014 | 0 Comments

Recently, Jose Cruz, the S. D. Council on Literacy’s (SDCOL) CEO was named Civic Leader of the Year at the Latino Awards program presented by U-T San Diego. This honor highlighted Cruz’s efforts to raise literacy rates in the region and reduce unemployment, homelessness, healthcare costs, and crime, among other social woes.

On Wednesday, May 14, Mr. Cruz will preside over SDCOL’s fifth annual “Eat. Drink. Read A Culinary Event for Literacy” as part of the continuing effort to enhance quality of life for all…through “100% literacy via 100 percent community engagement.”

We spoke to Mr. Cruz in 2010. It’s time once again:

LW: Jose, your passion for this work is evident.

JC: Every day presents opportunities to show that illiteracy is a national problem – directly con-nected to problems we seem to be forever addressing. Crime, unemployment, homelessness, spousal and drug abuse are simply symptoms. They are illiteracy in disguise. When we seriously deal with society’s root problems spawned by illiteracy, we will see a decrease in the challenges that have plagued us for decades.

LW: “Eat. Drink. Read.” – support for a good cause! What’s new this 5th year? Changes -and/or achievements – of note?

JC: In 1985, we supported five literacy programs, and the problem of adult illiteracy was virtu-ally unrecognized. Today we support 26 affiliated programs that annually serve about 170,000 residents, with help from 6,000 volunteers – and greater literacy awareness. More people know where to go for help. And, importantly, they know that they are not alone in needing help.

I am excited about our Region That Reads effort: our mayors and county supervisors are endors-ing our work and expressing their commitment to supporting literacy. They will take a leadership role that will result in more resources and bring us closer to our vision of literacy for all.

We’re doing good work – but more help is needed. We are thankful to U-T San Diego, the Dr. Seuss Foundation, Petco, U.S. Bank, the David C. Copley Foundation, The Shiley Foundation, Bill Lynch, Kaiser Permanente, Ashford University, Petco, the Stephen and Mary Birch Founda-tion, J.Walcher Communications, and more, for their support.

LW: how you work with the literacy programs?

JC: They are our primary ‘customers.’ We coordinate services for them, maximizing resources, raise literacy awareness, direct referrals, provide training for staff, engage with public officials, generate resources, and more. We never feel like we’re doing enough. Together, we strive to break cycles of illiteracy and replace these with cycles of success. It’s do-able.

A few years ago, the economy took a bit hit and hurt all of us. Things now look up, and we are convening our partners to help coordinate Health Literacy San Diego with Community Health Improvement Partners (CHIP), our effort to address the communication breakdowns between patients and the healthcare system. These are expensive and heartbreaking; they occur when pa-tients’ weak literacy abilities, languages, and cultures meet the literature, language, and culture of the healthcare system.

LW: What is the continuing challenge?

JC: It’s showing the connection between illiteracy and our social woes. As a society, we are too much about providing food, clothing, and shelter, yet not enough about giving people the tools they need to generate these things on their own. Twenty percent of U.S. adults read prose at the lowest level. The path to healthier families, communities, businesses, and to youth success con-tinues to be literacy. We know this.

LW: Where do the schools fit in?

JC: Schools are vital. However, the truth is, we are winning and losing the battle in the home. The parent is the child’s first and most important teacher; the home is the child’s first and most important school. If given the choice, I would choose a functional home over a good school any time. Our teachers care deeply…every day they make a world of difference to our children. But, ask them! Teachers will be the first to say that they need our help.

LW: How has the web/social marketing, etc., impacted the state of literacy?

JC: Social marketing provides an important, low-cost vehicle for our messages, in a way that helps us find and secure our support base. We need to be where the people are.

LW: How do people who struggle with reading find you?

JC: Word of mouth is still the primary way. Relationships are still worth gold. Recently, docu-mentarian Mark Albertazzi, with funding from the United Way of San Diego County, Price Fam-ily Charitable Foundation, Sycuan, and the San Diego Foundation, produced Voices & Faces: Literacy in San Diego.

Everyone should see it! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLjniRfnbVk Hearing, seeing the testimonials of those who struggled with reading as children, we get a greater grasp of what takes place. Truly, illiteracy is a lonely, sad, angry, embarrassing existence for too many adults; they want help, but they don’t want to be discovered. Yet adults can and do learn to read; when that happens, the transformation in their lives is dramatic and inspiring.

LW: What do volunteers do?

JC: They tutor adults and children, and read to children. We say, ‘change two lives: yours and someone else’s.’ You never know how great an impact you’ll have on a person, his or her family, and generations to come. In homes where children are failing, we find that there are no books, no one reading to the kids, limited language interaction, and not enough of the kind of role modeling – the key to youth success in school. Tutors are a big part of what makes the literacy world turn. (Call us! 1-888-850-READ (7323) or visit www.literacysandiego.org)

LW: If you could invite three writers to “Eat. Drink. Read,” who would they be?

JC: Hmmm… I’d pick five: Twain, Dickens, Shakespeare, Steinbeck, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. All would wonder why our cause was not higher up on our social radar and all would know and comment upon the importance of our work. Not only that, they might even find their books have inspired our Chefs’ creative dishes.

LW: Last words?

JC: 100 percent literacy through 100 percent community engagement. Mission Federal Credit Union, Stellar HealthCare, SharpHealth Care, Bob Alden, the S.D. Press Club, and more, are just the short list of donors – so appreciated!

Yet, it still takes a village. Get your $60 ticket to “Eat. Drink. Read. A Culinary Event for Litera-cy,” www.eatdrinkread.com.

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