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Literacy Group Raises Money for Job Training

GREENWICH/STAMFORD, Conn. – Greenwich and Stamford Literacy Volunteers began providing access to non-English speaking adults 40 years ago. But with the economic downturn, it has offered more job training programs to help low-income residents improve their work readiness skills.

“They are now finding it’s much more competitive, and they need a much higher level of skill set to compete in a very challenging job market,” said Diane Rosenthal, executive director of the nonprofit that provides educational literacy and job preparation programs for free for all adults, young adults and families with limited incomes.

Two-thirds of the students are women, and 90 percent of all students are from households living at or below the poverty level. “If we didn’t have this, they would have nowhere to go to resume their education. That’s what the money from our fundraising efforts supports — 600 students a year.”

A spoken word “Rhythm and Rhyme” event held earlier this month in Stamford raised $35,000 for the group’s job training, English language and financial literacy education programs.

“You had your Greenwich, New Canaan and Darien society folk mixing in with all the artsy folk,” said Fern Pessin of Charity Matchmaking, which puts profit and nonprofit groups together. “People in Fairfield County typically had to go into Manhattan to get an event like this, so we figured, why not bring it local?”

Performers included Connecticut State Poet Laureate Dick Allen; poet, Stamford native and award-winning playwright Iyaba Ibo Mandingo; members of One Word, Connecticut’s youth poetry slam team; Evan Knoll and Maggie Kearney; and rising hip-hop artist Andre “Noodle” Rainey. Richard “Cookie” Thomas and friends kept everyone swaying with their classic smooth jazz sound.

“It brought together people from all over. The crowd was very interesting and very eclectic: every race, every sexual preference, young, old, wealthy, not wealthy, etcetera … from all over the area,” said Pessin. “Everyone is trying to realize that poetry is not necessarily the boring stuff you had to read in high school and you had to read it. It can be pretty exciting.”

A second Rhythm and Rhyme Celebration is scheduled for fall 2012, but the money raised will help expand training programs for certification in Microsoft Office and customer service, as well as English language programs.

“We see a great need, and we have also seen an extraordinary success rate,” she said. Of those who graduate, 95 percent have obtained part-time or full-time employment. “These were people who were chronically unemployed or underemployed. I see that as a great promise for the future.”

For more information on Literacy Volunteers and programs offered, visit its website or call 203-324-5214.

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