Literacy program takes off in Georgetown County

GEORGETOWN — This story about good people begins with one woman making a phone call.

Millie Cafcules, a parishioner at Precious Blood of Christ Church in Pawleys Island, was recruited for the social outreach committee shortly after losing her husband. Statistics indicate that approximately 30 percent of adults in Georgetown County have low literacy skills and cannot read at high school level. Cafcules, a retired teacher, decided to do something about it.

She called the South Carolina Adult Literacy Hotline in February 2001 and was referred to Zacharias “Zach” Grate, the literacy coordinator at the Howard Adult Center in downtown Georgetown.

Cafcules and Grate agreed to offer a workshop to train tutors, and 10 or 12 parishioners committed themselves. By the end of May 2001, three workshops were held at the Waccamaw branch of the Georgetown Public Library, and more than 30 parishioners were trained. The first workshop was conducted by staff at the Howard Adult Center, and two subsequent events were led by staff at Horry County Literacy Council.

The adult literacy subcommittee of Precious Blood’s outreach committee provided financial support for the workshops.

The good work began to snowball. One couple, Peter and Kathleen Reibold, felt a calling to prison ministry and used their training to tutor prisoners at Georgetown Detention Center. Grate estimates that approximately 70 percent of people in prison are illiterate.

“I know this,” he said. “I was in law enforcement for 12 years before I came here.”

The parish outreach committee donated $500 to the Howard Adult Center in October 2001 for General Educational Development course materials.

Members of the adult literacy subcommittee had a dream: to establish a literacy council in Georgetown County modeled after the successful council in Horry County.

Cafcules said, “We need to replicate what they’ve done.”

The Horry County Literacy Council uses the Laubach method for adult literacy. Father Frank Laubach, a missionary to the Philippines, developed this method in the 1930s to teach adults how to read and write in their own language. Literacy programs all over the country use his motto, “Each one, teach one.”

In August 2002, Father Patrick J. Stenson, pastor of Precious Blood, presented a check for $4,000 from the Bishop’s Stewardship Appeal to Grate to help fund the literacy program.

About a year ago, Father Stenson wrote to other churches in Georgetown County, communicating what had been accomplished and asking for their support to expand literacy education. Volunteers stepped forward.

Cafcules referred an inquiry from Duncan United Methodist Church to the Horry County Literacy Council, and that church now has an active English as a Second Language program, based at the Howard Adult Center.

The Georgetown County Literacy Council was formally established in January 2004 and is based at the Howard Adult Center. Its board of advisors has grown by word of mouth and includes a number of people from outside the Precious Blood of Christ community.

“The Holy Spirit is out there, working overtime,” Cafcules said.

Dwight McInvaill, director of the Georgetown County Library, heard of Father Stenson’s letter and became one of the founding members of the board.

Joseph Muffolett, an attorney and Precious Blood parishioner, was recruited to the board when legal expertise was needed.

Jean Moodie, another Precious Blood parishioner, brought more than 20 years of experience to the board. She has been the tutor trainer since last October.

Father Stenson recruited one of his friends, Wilfred Connell, at a time when progress was at a plateau. The Georgetown businessman now chairs the board of advisors.

“Believe me, things took off,” Cafcules said.

Connell met a woman through his work who introduced him to Mike Shaw, a recent retiree from the Internal Revenue Service. Connell wasted no time recruiting Shaw to the board, and Shaw was instrumental in obtaining nonprofit status for the new organization. The cost for materials to educate one nonreader is about $150, so the council needs to raise money.

The Myrtle Beach Sun News recently donated $1,000, and the Sisters of Charity awarded a grant for $10,000.

Plans for expanding literacy services in Georgetown County are impressive. Grate is in the process of starting services in other sections of the county because many people in the rural areas do not have transportation to downtown Georgetown.

He also plans to bring literacy classes to the steel mill because many long-term employees lack the skills to understand the processes and procedures implemented by the new owner. Future growth plans include English as a Second Language, math literacy, computer literacy, and general life skills.