Local Spotlight: Indy Reads

Much more than a bookstore, this organization helps adult students in Central Indiana improve their reading and writing skills.

As you peruse this article, you probably took for granted your ability to read, not remembering the effort it took to develop those skills. But 49,000 adults in Marion County are illiterate, a handicap which leads to many missed opportunities. And if those adults are parents, their children are 72% more likely to be at the lowest reading levels.

Indy Reads began with the mission of 100% literacy for all “to empower adults and families to reach their full potential.” Initially they served English-speaking adults through one-on-one tutoring, but have evolved as the Indianapolis population has grown and changed to serve both native and non-native English speakers through group classes and other services. Many locals know of Indy Reads as a downtown bookstore, but that is just one small facet of the organization. The Indy Reads Bookstore’s existence is purely to support the mission of the nonprofit, directing its sales profits directly back into literacy programming.

Indy Reads offers a variety of programs to aid adult learners, such as literacy classes, High School Equivalency programs, English learning classes, various certification courses, and a customer service skills program — all free of charge. No one’s level of education or knowledge is too low, and they are welcome to participate in classes until they have achieved their goals.

“The more educated you are, the more possibilities you see for yourself,” says Ruba Marshood, Indy Reads chief executive officer. “I love the personal stories of our students. They are impactful.” Last year, Indy Reads had 339 students. Many of the referrals they receive are from connections with former or current students who have recommended the program. And it’s no wonder the program comes highly recommended, more than 80% of participants see literacy improvement.

And while Indy Reads provides services to adults, they know that children in these families will benefit by having literate parents. Adults who receive their High School Equivalency Diploma earn, on average, $8,000 more per year than those with no diploma, and have better continued career options. The generational impact is significant.

After the recent relocation of the Indy Reads bookstore to Fountain Square, the nonprofit has increased, focusing on utilizing the space for the community. “We are starting to integrate the bookstore programming with our students and our classroom,” says Toby Stark, Indy Reads chief development & communications officer. “We want them to be interrelated — we love for students to come to the bookstore to get reading resources and bring their children for family programming. Customer service certification participants can even work at the bookstore to earn a living wage and receive on-the-job training.”

The inspiration of some of the programs comes directly from the classroom participants themselves. “We have students asking to do a book reading in English and their native language,” Stark says.

“It’s beautiful to hear The Very Hungry Caterpillar read in eight different languages!” Marshood adds.

As a small organization, Indy Reads relies heavily on the time and talent of volunteers, either as tutors or working at the bookstore, and generous donations, either financial, book donations on the first Friday of each month, or simply by visiting Indy Reads for your book shopping. Volunteer opportunities are very flexible, and there are even family-friendly volunteer roles in which you can engage your children.

For more information about Indy Reads, its services, or how to volunteer, visit indyreads.org. For the most up to date information about community programming and events, follow Indy Reads on social media.

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