Photo by Collin Richie.

Giving Back: Adult Literacy Advocates

Participants in classes offered by Adult Literacy Advocates of Greater Baton Rouge know it’s never too late to learn


For many of Gary Robertson’s students at Adult Literacy Advocates of Greater Baton Rouge, learning to read is the greatest present they will receive this Christmas.

Upon asking one student about her holiday plans, she responded, “They are going to be so good this year because I can finally read to my grandkids.”

Robertson, a retired teacher and executive director of Adult Literacy Advocates, is humbled every day by the excitement in his students’ faces when they accomplish simple acts such as reading a street sign or menu—acts that most of us take for granted.

His students’ reasons for not completing traditional education are as varied as their reasons for returning. Everything from family emergencies to working on a farm caused these individuals to hit the pause button on their education.

“It’s almost like everyone has a story,” Robertson says. “It takes every ounce of courage for them to come in.”

Photo by Collin Richie.
Photo by Collin Richie.

Entering the classroom as an adult instead of a child is just the first painful step, however. These students have lives, families and jobs. The challenges that led them to leave school in the first place are often still present.

“One of the things people don’t realize is, yes, they are going back to school, but they are also doing a balancing act with all the other responsibilities they have,” Robertson says.

Recognizing the difficulties later-in-life students face, he tries to accommodate their needs as much as possible by offering open enrollment all year and a variety of programs to meet specific needs. Courses include adult basic and intermediate education as well as high school equivalency preparation. Instructors are all certified teachers, and while online programs are available, most students need interaction with an instructor in the classroom. Volunteer tutors are also available for students unable to attend class.

“Employment is the biggest issue that keeps people from being able to attend,” Robertson says. “That’s an issue that we just have to deal with. One student is 90. I’ve told him when it’s raining to stay home because I don’t want him to get out on the road when the weather is like that.”

While Adult Literacy Advocates will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year, the organization’s leaders are constantly finding new ways to expand and upgrade their operations. English as a second language is the newest program created to meet the needs of an evolving demographic.

The organization’s purpose is clear—help students achieve personal, work or family goals by improving literacy skills—but there are other implications. Giving people the knowledge they need to improve their own quality of life results in more qualified workers to increase economic development. More importantly, Robertson hopes that his efforts will enrich our community.

How you can help:

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