WILLIAMSBURG – Most Virginia Gazette boxes around town hold newspapers for sale, but come March more than a dozen boxes will hold something a little less tangible.
These boxes – distinguishable by their artistic colors and themes – hold within them the opportunity of literacy for adults in the greater Williamsburg area unable to read, write or speak English fluently.
The Gazette has partnered with the nonprofit organization Literacy for Life on "Paint the Box," which was created to bring awareness to the issue of adult literacy and raise money for the organization. Local schools and community groups have spent the last few weeks turning old newspaper boxes into new works of art. The finished works will be displayed throughout the area at local businesses. The premise is similar to decorated mermaids in Norfolk, and fish in Richmond.
Locals can vote on their favorite boxes during March, and a silent auction in April will raise money for Literacy for Life, which depends on grants, fundraising, donations and volunteers to operate.
Joan Peterson, executive director of Literacy for Life, said the "Paint the Box" campaign is "a perfect match" to help the organization.
"It's really great. We're appreciative of it," she said.
Through Literacy for Life, adults can get help learning how to read, speak and write fluently in English, as well as how to do basic math. The organization's services are free and the tutors who teach the lessons are volunteers. Each year, about 600 people in greater Williamsburg are served by approximately 300 volunteers via one-on-one tutoring and small class and conversation groups.
"A lot of the people we serve don't have a lot of their own resources and their lives are complicated," Peterson said. "At least we can remove that one hurdle of the expense. We also have really flexible hours so that people can meet with their tutor at a time that's convenient for them."
Students and community members from Bruton High School, Jamestown High School, Lafayette High School, Warhill High School, York High School, Williamsburg Christian Academy, Matoaka Elementary, Waller Mill Elementary, the Williamsburg Players, This Century Art Gallery and the Williamsburg Youth Baseball League's Revolution 11-Under travel team are participating.
At Williamsburg Christian Academy, students in Karen Florimonte's "American Crafts" class are creating a Dr. Seuss-themed newspaper box.
"When I was little, I didn't like reading, but when I heard Dr. Seuss, I would jump in," said William Calapodas, a sophomore. "When most people read for the first time, they learn Dr. Seuss. The books are so much fun that they get people excited about them, and about reading, and that's really awesome."
Just because Literacy for Life doesn't teach children, it doesn't mean they don't reach children.
"It's one degree of separation, but the impact is huge on families," Peterson said. "A child's literacy level is based on good part on the parents' literacy level."
Literacy for Life doesn't offer career advisory services, but Peterson said she has seen many cases where the organization's students are able to find jobs or get better ones because they are better communicators.
"It's critically important to be able to do reading, writing, and simple math before you can get a job," she said. "Once they get a better handle on the language, many, many doors will open up. If we can get them to a high school diploma and then community college, then even more doors will open up."
Sampson can be reached at 757-345-2345.