A Helping Hand

Between reading billboards, text messages, newspapers, and signing our names, reading and writing is something that most people do everyday without a second thought.

However, difficulty with reading and writing affects the lives of one in five Hoosiers.

In an effort to help those who have trouble reading, Indy Reads has been up and running since the early 1970’s. Started by a group of librarians who attended church together, Indy Reads is a non-profit organization, serving adults 18 years and older in central Indiana who may struggle with reading and writing, or who are learning English as a new language.

"I want to help people who didn't grow up with that opportunity get access to books and learn to read."-Travis DiNicola 

"I want to help people who didn't grow up with that opportunity get access to books and learn to read."-Travis DiNicola 

“Growing up, I was the child of two English teachers,” Executive director, Travis DiNicola explained. “Books were always in my house and a big part of my family. I want to help people who didn’t grow up with that opportunity get access to books and learn to read.”

Although the statistic provided by the state government tells us that one in five Hoosiers can’t read, DiNicola points out that “one in five is the best estimate, but it doesn’t mean that one in five Hoosiers are totally illiterate.” This simply means that a person who is not reading at the proper level for their age group can be considered illiterate. This is a problem that many, including DiNicola, believe can be curbed through early childhood education programs.

“I think strong preschool programs and early education can help,” DiNicola said. “Numerous studies have shown that if you can help a second or third grade student to read at grade level, that success will continue in the future. Statistically, students who are not reading at grade level at that point tend to fall behind.”

In this day and age, it is hard for many to understand illiteracy. “It sounds like something that happens in a third world country, but it is happening right here in the state and all over the country,” DiNicola pointed out.

“A lot of people,” DiNicola started, “are surprised and shocked to realize that not everyone knows how to read.”

Many factors contribute to illiteracy, and many statistics go hand in hand with the rate of illiteracy in this country.

“The high school dropout rate directly corresponds to the one in five statistic,” DiNicola said. “There may be some who graduate from high school not knowing how to read, but, more commonly, people who struggle don’t graduate. When they go back to get their GED later, many find that they do not read well enough to finish.”

Unfortunately, it is easier than one may think for someone struggling to fall through the cracks of the education system.

“Some of it is the fault of the education system,” DiNicola started. “Many of our students who struggle with reading and writing have dyslexia. People with dyslexia can, and often do, go on to be successful, but they aren’t always given the attention they need in school.”

Due to the difficulty with reading and writing that many dyslexic students have, tutoring is helpful and often necessary to help the student succeed. However, that assistance may be out of reach for many.

“Some families can afford to get tutoring for their student which is great.” DiNicola said, “However, there are a lot of families that don’t have the resources to.”

That is where Indy Reads steps in. By promoting literacy throughout the city, Indy Reads works with volunteers and partners to reach their goal to “Make Indianapolis 100% literate.”

“We do a lot of our promoting through our bookstore, Indy Reads Books,” DiNicola explained. “It’s located on Mass Ave., and it is our number one way to connect with students and volunteers. We also have partnerships. We work with organizations that run programs for the homeless and adult programs. We do a lot of public projects that promote literacy.”

“The most public project we’ve done is the hanging books piece in the entrance of the IMA,” DiNicola said. “That was made by books donated by people to the bookstore.”

While books seem to be a huge part of the Indy Reads program, illiteracy affects much more in a person's life than their ability to read books.

“Travel can be an issue that many students deal with,” DiNicola stated. “Getting lost or confused can be an issue due to not being able to read maps or street signs. Another big issue is financing. They may have a bank account but aren’t able to understand how to work it. They may have a neighbor or a family member help them, and that might work, but it might result in money being lost. They can be sucked into different schemes because they can’t read the fine print.”

“Health care is another issue,” DiNicola continued. “Confusion about prescriptions or what their doctor is telling them can come up. Nutrition can also be an issue. They may not be able to understand a recipe or may have trouble reading a cookbook. Illiteracy goes far beyond not being able to read a book.”

Reaching out to help your fellow Hoosiers is very simple thanks to Indy Reads.

“To work directly with a student,” DiNicola said, “there is a two hour, free orientation. It is a great way to get involved and to help you figure out what exactly you want to do as a volunteer. You have to be 18 or older, but that is pretty much the only restriction. We also have a lot of people, especially high school and college students, that volunteer in the bookstore.”

When 25 percent of Hoosiers are considered illiterate, it is clear that this is a major problem in our state. However, thanks to Indy Reads and similar organizations, hope is given, and progress is made. When a person learns to read and write, the world opens up for them.

“Any community that is going to be strong and proud and thrive,” DiNicola started, “has to be literate. When a person learns how to read, they can then be a part of the world.”

For more information on how you can volunteer at Indy Reads, visit: