Blog

Winning Two Awards in Social Innovation Incubator Program

We are so thankful that United Way Dallas allowed Reading to New Heights to participate in their 12-week program designed to help foster early-stage social ventures led and staffed by women and people of color. Known as the Social Innovation Incubator, we, alongside other participants, had the opportunity to:

  • Utilize personalize leadership coaching to empower participants as they develop their venture and grow their leadership
  • Access seed funding and compete in a pitch competition for additional funding of up to $5,000
  • Prioritization for future programs through United Way of Metropolitan Dallas

Last week, United Way Dallas granted us two awards—the Sustainability Awards and the Audience Choice Award–after a successful pitch.  

“We are honored to be a part of this program not only because of the professional development and support but also because it provides endless opportunities to move our mission forward and create a safe place for adults to learn and improve their literacy skills. Everything we do is with current and future learners in mind,” says Deidra Mayberry, Reading to New Heights’ Executive Director and Co-founder.

Founded in 2020, Reading to New Heights is still in the startup phase. Focusing exclusively on startups led and staffed by women and people of color, the Social Innovation program fosters greater equity in the local social innovation sector. The program works to intentionally address historical barriers to success that many women and people of color encounter when launching a startup, including opportunity and resource gaps, as well as systemic racial and gender inequities.

“Social innovation is an exciting area because it’s all about leveraging more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just solutions to our community’s biggest challenges,” said Alexis Snow, senior manager of innovation at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. 

Thank you, United Way Dallas!

Changemaker Deidra Mayberry talks Adult Literacy!

Before I met Deidra Mayberry, I was really in the dark about the disturbing statistics available on the breadth and depth of functional illiteracy among adults in this country. As Deidra puts it…

In a matter of just one day, people go from children who struggle with reading to adults who struggle with reading.

That makes sense because one day you are legally considered a child and the next, on your eighteenth birthday, you are suddenly plunged into the world with full adult responsibilities whether you’ve mastered basic literacy skills or not.  As a lifelong educator, I’m a little bit embarrassed by how unaware I’ve been about this particular issue.  Deidra cites a disturbing 2020 Forbes article by Michael T. Nietzel that articulates the widespread implications of the problem. 

There’s 130 million adults in the U.S. that cannot read above a third grade level.

3 Ways You Can Promote Adult Literacy Now

Someone you know likely struggles to read. According to UNESCO, despite a steady rise in the literacy rate over the past 50 years, there are still 773 million adults around the world who cannot read. The majority are women.

While that number can easily be overwhelming, it is essential to know that there are solutions to reducing this number. It is why Reading to New Heights was founded–to chip away at that number and empower those on the journey to reading proficiency.

And while monetary donations support our efforts of hiring certified instructors, paying for curriculum, and ensuring we achieve our mission, there are other ways to give back. Here are a few tips if you’re looking for ways to reduce illiteracy rates and get involved.

  1. Share our social media

You never know who in your social circle is struggling with literacy, and perhaps sharing a post could be the sign that someone needs to start their journey of improving their reading skills. Follow us on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook, and share a post as a sign of solidarity and support.

  1. Become a volunteer

Our volunteers make our mission possible. You can support by offering your time, skills, and expertise with as little as four hours a week. We would love to have you join us! If you have an active teaching certificate from any state, click here for more information.

  1. Be a listening ear

Reading hardships are often a hidden struggle. If someone confides in you about their struggles or desire to improve their reading skills, take the time to listen and support them. Share our resources and let them know that they are not alone.

For an inspirational clip of how Reading to New Heights co-founder Deidra Mayberry confided in her friend about her struggles, watch this clip from the Kelly Clarkson Show.

Remember that literacy is one of the greatest gifts, and you have the tools to share it.

Answering Your Questions! Program FAQs

It’s no secret! Reading to New Heights aims to create a safe place for adults to learn and improve their literacy skills. We’re here for you, but we know it can be tough to decide to start our program. So, we’ve created a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) that might help answer how we achieve success with our clients. 

  • What’s the cost? 

It’s free! We are a non-profit and are a solely grant and donor-funded organization. We seek to remove all barriers to literacy, including costs. 

  • Are learners diagnosed with any reading disabilities within the program? 

While we do have certified educators paired with each learner, we don’t offer diagnosing services. We focus on a multi-tiered approach to support. We support those with dyslexia or other learning disabilities, those with English as their second language, and those who simply need care and support. All adults are welcome! 

  • Is there an entrance exam? 

We test every learner to assess their reading level. However, there is no score that must be achieved in order to enroll. All learners are welcome! 

  • Do learners have to read aloud in front of a class? 

No. We know that reading aloud to strangers can be a tough hurdle for some, and we value privacy and creating safe spaces for our learners. We offer one-on-one, pattern, and small group options. Students can choose which option they prefer. 

  • Are classes in-person or virtual? 

We offer both depending on the needs of the learner. Most enrolled learners prefer virtual sessions, while some prefer in-person instruction. 

  • How long is the program?  

It’s different for everyone! We have designed an 18-month, three-level program with a goal of every learner graduating with mastering a 9th-grade reading level. Some learners have chosen to accelerate their two-year program, and others have taken their time. We follow our client’s pace. 

Ready?

Now that you know more about us, we’d love to learn more about you. Click here if you’re interested in our program and ready to contact us or enroll. If this program tugs at your heart and you’re interested in making an impact through a donation, please click here

Upworthy Supports Reading to New Heights

When Deidra Mayberry was a child, she struggled with reading. Feeling embarrassed and ashamed, she did her best to hide it. And she was pretty good at hiding it. As her family moved around a lot, due to her parents’ military career, she adapted and kept hiding it — making it all the way through school without anyone really noticing.

After graduating from high school, she started looking for support to improve her reading skills.

I was turned away because I was over the age of 17, and other private options like one-on-one tutoring were financially out of reach for me.

Deidra promised that one day she’d do something to fix it. After struggling for years, and eventually finding support, she started a nonprofit to help other adults facing their own challenges with literacy. Now she’s striving to help the almost 43,000,000 adults who still are struggling. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), 21 percent of adults in the United States (about 43 million) fall into the illiterate/functionally illiterate category.

Tory Burch Foundation recognizes Deidra Mayberry / Reading to New Heights

When Deidra Mayberry was a child, she struggled with reading. Feeling embarrassed and ashamed, she did her best to hide it. And she was pretty good at hiding it. As her family moved around a lot, due to her parents’ military career, she adapted and kept hiding it — making it all the way through school without anyone really noticing.

After graduating from high school, she started looking for support to improve her reading skills.

I was turned away because I was over the age of 17, and other private options like one-on-one tutoring were financially out of reach for me.

Deidra promised that one day she’d do something to fix it. After struggling for years, and eventually finding support, she started a nonprofit to help other adults facing their own challenges with literacy. Now she’s striving to help the almost 43,000,000 adults who still are struggling. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), 21 percent of adults in the United States (about 43 million) fall into the illiterate/functionally illiterate category.

RTNH’s Courageous Origin (Fox 4 News Highlights)

Deidra’s story is like so many others. Our founder, Deidra Mayberry, recently had a chance to sit down with Fox 4’s Lauren Przybyl on Good Day to talk about her struggles with illiteracy earlier in her life, as well as what Reading to New Heights is now doing to help the people of Dallas County.

As the interview details, Deidra’s journey hasn’t been easy. One of seven children, she was part of a military family that moved constantly. With each new school, she found herself slipping further and further behind her classmates as they learned to read— and she didn’t.

Soon she found herself in special ed classes, and intentionally got to school late so no one would see her enter that classroom. She stayed there for three years. Even after she was moved back into regular classrooms, she fell behind, having missed three years of normal study. 

Seeking any form of community and acceptance from the peers who had academically left her behind, she turned to people pleasing. “It took alot of work. A lot of prep before and after class. Alot of faking, trying to be the class clown, just to not be exposed.”

Things only got worse as she got older. In high school, when she told a guidance counselor about her dream of becoming a psychologist, she was told that it wouldn’t be possible— her grades just weren’t good enough. She struggled and found a way to graduate, and even went on to pursue a degree in business administration, but barely kept a C average.

Finally Deidra opened up to a trusted friend about her illiteracy. This friend started helping her, but she needed professional education. And she couldn’t find it. “That was the struggle. Knowing I needed the support, I couldn’t find anything.” Most illiteracy programs outside the school system are for children.

Embarrassment is the #1 factor prohibiting adults from learning to read. Like Deidra, so many illiterate adults feel shame for not measuring up to their peers. The #2 factor, meanwhile, is probably cost. It should come as no surprise that illiteracy is generally paired with poverty. The illiterate usually cannot afford to spend thousands of dollars to learn to read, and their lack of reading comprehension cycles back into their poverty.

When she finally did learn to read, Deidra determined to help others in her situation. “I just always had the dream that one day I would support people like myself and give them a program so that they, too, could better themselves.”

She founded Reading to New Heights to eliminate both major barriers: cost and shame. A major goal of RTNH has been raising awareness for adult illiteracy. It’s more common than you might think. 35% of Dallas County residents read below a basic level. Your illiterate friends are not alone in this struggle. 

As for the cost factor, the organization takes care of that, as well. It’s completely free. But that doesn’t mean a drop in quality. “All of our volunteers are certified educators. When you’re dealing with adults, it’s really important that you have that background to be able to help navigate through what you may be challenged with.

“The goal was to make sure no one experienced the limitations I did, the hopelessness. Because there’s so much more inside that I wanted to do, but I didn’t have the skillset to do it. I didn’t want to just bring a problem, but to bring a solution.”

Deidra’s story is like so many others. If you know someone with a similar story, tell them about Reading to New Heights. They can start rewriting that story today.

Unmasking Functional Illiteracy

We’ve all had to pretend to know something. Whether we’ve bluffed our way through a job interview, inflated a research paper, or used “I’ll tell you when you’re older” on our kids, we’re all familiar with putting on a mask of competence once in a while. But what if you had to do it every day? What if you had to pretend to know how to read? Let’s take a closer look at functional illiteracy, and how you can help to bridge that gap into full literacy.

What is functional illiteracy?

Most of us learned to read at such a young age that we don’t remember that there’s a formula behind sounding words out, identifying the letters involved and deciphering their sounds to add them into words. It has become a subconscious process, and we do it thousands of times a day.

Functionally illiterate people “read” differently. One strategy is to recognize the shapes of words and memorize them for future use. Mortgage is shaped like no other word in our language, so when the bill arrives, they know to pay it. Different fonts and text designs can make this more difficult.

Another pattern is association, seeing the shape of the word and associating it with whatever it is labeling. You don’t need to be able to sound out black beans if the shape of those words are always next to a picture of black beans on a can. 

How common is functional illiteracy?

According to Phillip C. Schlechty in his paper Shaking up the Schoolhouse: How to Support and Sustain Educational Innovation, “Today, 99 percent of all adult Americans can read in the sense that they can decode words. The illiteracy rate that concerns us today is the functional illiteracy rate. Nearly half of adult Americans are functionally illiterate; they cannot read well enough to manage daily living and employment tasks that require reading skills beyond a basic level. Literal illiteracy has been eradicated. What remains to be eradicated is functional illiteracy, which represents a newer, higher standard.”

So virtually all illiteracy among adults is functional in nature. This is obviously a sliding scale, with different standards for what a basic reading level is, but the problem still remains for a large portion of the American population. While Schlechty puts the number at “nearly half,” other sources report that 1 in 7 adults has problems with literacy.

Why do adults hide their illiteracy?

The biggest factor is embarrassment. A social stigma surrounds illiteracy. After all, when our society relies so much on the ability to read, and it seems like “everyone” can do it but you can’t, you’ll naturally feel embarrassed. So people tend to mask their illiteracy with functional illiteracy, bluffing their way through the reading requirements of everyday life.

Yet this is too great a problem for us to leave this stigma in place, especially when there’s so much we can do to help. At Reading to New Heights, it’s our mission to eliminate adult illiteracy in all its forms and the stigma around it. We offer classes and resources to help adults gain and improve reading skills. And you can be a part of it. We always have the need of both volunteers and donors to help support our program. Or you can simply share this post. 

Together we can break the stigma, unmask functional literacy, and help every adult read to new heights!

Dyslexia and Illiteracy

October is National Dyslexia Month. If you’ve never battled dyslexia, you may think it’s simply a disorder that makes kids mix up p and q. A few special language classes and it’s all fixed. But dyslexia is much more complex than that, and experts believe that it is the number one cause of adult illiteracy. 

A Significant Overlap

Dyslexia is more common than you might think. The International Dyslexia Association reports that 15-20% of the population shows symptoms of the disorder, which causes difficulties with certain language skills, reading in particular. 

It would make sense, then, that 36 million American adults struggle with some form of illiteracy. Dyslexia is a lifelong disorder, often first appearing when children learn to read in school. But when many illiterate adults were that age, the scientific community didn’t know all they do now about dyslexia, despite the fact that the term originated in 1887. It is likely that many students went undiagnosed. Educators, overworked and underresourced, simply saw these kids as poor readers, having low aptitude for language. 

The Shame Factor

This constant low rating of a student’s learning skills can bring about feelings of shame and can cause him to distance himself from reading. That shame only compounds as he becomes an adult and watches his peers advance in life with fine reading skills, leaving him behind. This is a common reason that many illiterate adults never learn to read. They keep it a secret.

Unfortunately, this embarrassment can also lead to a lack of dyslexia diagnosis. Without regular reading experience, they don’t know they have a disorder, assuming instead that they just have “low aptitude” for reading.  

A Barrier to Communication

Contrary to popular belief, dyslexia isn’t just about reading. It affects all language functions, including speaking and comprehension when listening. So not only do dyslexic adults face the stigma of illiteracy, they often have trouble communicating what they experience as they try to read, and understanding the disorder when it is explained to them. This further hinders diagnosis. 

Solutions

While the problem may seem frustrating, especially if someone you know is illiterate due to dyslexia, you can do more than simply putting an arm around them and assuring them, “It’s not your fault,” like Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting

At Reading to New Heights, we understand that dyslexia is a major contributing factor to adult illiteracy. Identifying and helping people adjust to it takes special skills, plenty of training, and lots of patience. We are committed to eliminate adult illiteracy in the DFW metro, even among the dyslexic community. You can make a difference by volunteering with us, donating, or simply sharing this blog post. Literacy is possible, and we can achieve it together.