University of Wisconsin–Madison

AHA Promotes Literacy and Education in Madison

For the past year, AHA has sent volunteers to Magazine Literacy’s monthly sorting days. These sorting days are held from 1-4 PM on the first Sunday of every month, and they give atheists something to keep us out of trouble since we don’t have anything else required of us on Sundays.

But why spend three hours sorting magazines?

Magazine Literacy was founded in 2004 with the mission of providing reading materials to children, families, and adults at risk for illiteracy. They receive a large variety of magazines from both consumers sending in their gently used magazines and donations from magazine publishers sending in larger quantities of brand new magazines. All donations get assessed for quality, have any address labels covered, and are sorted into categories to be distributed to the community. Recipients of magazines include various Boys & Girls Clubs, food pantries, community centers, homeless shelters, and groups that provide reading materials to incarcerated people.

Why magazines? Magazines span all areas of interest, are visually interesting, and tend to be less intimidating than books to someone who isn’t sure of their reading abilities, and their use of pictures can be helpful to someone who is learning English. In addition, childhood reading ability is tightly correlated with the availability of reading materials in the home; without materials to practice reading, reading doesn’t happen, and then literacy skills fall behind their peers who are reading at home. In fact, the 1985 National Commission on Reading found that the most significant factor influencing a child’s early educational success is an introduction to reading materials and being read to at home before starting school.

Now, keep in mind that there are varying levels of literacy. It may seem impossible for someone to become an illiterate adult after finishing even an elementary education; however, just because one can read a word and understand a sentence doesn’t necessarily mean they are fully literate. Literacy is defined by the National Assessment of Adult Literacy as the ability to use printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential. According to the International Adult Literacy Survey conducted by the Program for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), 20% of American adults have only beginning literacy skills. This group of people with beginning literacy skills can read and obtain information from a text, but may not be able to connect concepts from two text sources or make inferences about something not directly stated in the text; these people tend to struggle with determining whether a story they read is true or understand the implications of the policies of a politician they support, which are pretty big issues facing our society in recent months

Magazine Literacy hopes to alleviate illiteracy and the poverty and lower health that tends to follow by providing at risk children, teens, and adults with reading materials. This organization can’t function without volunteers; volunteers are needed to assess quality of donations, to cover address labels, to help sort into categories, and other tasks that vary month to month. AHA has become a regular supply of volunteers at monthly sorting events and we hope to continue the tradition!

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