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Reading lessons turn into a bond of friendship


ASK SHERRY SPIKER and Audrey Cavanaugh what makes them friends and they both point to their love of reading, their trust of one another and the journey they are taking together as they rise to the challenge of adult illiteracy.

For as much as they are friends, these Glen Burnie women are also teacher and student, brought together four years ago through the county Literacy Council.

When her daughter graduated from high school and went to college, Spiker found herself with time on her hands and a desire to volunteer. She saw the literacy program as an opportunity to share her love of reading.

Cavanaugh came to the program having raised a family with her husband, David. She enjoyed her job in the cafeteria at North Glen Elementary School and struggled with the shame of being unable to read at an adult level. She had developed rheumatic fever at age 7 and spent most of her childhood in hospitals. Her education was limited to basic functional reading.

One afternoon, while watching a television talk show on adult literacy programs, Cavanaugh realized that if these programs could help people who had no reading skills, they could work for her. She called the Literacy Council the next day.

After she was tested to determine her reading level, Cavanaugh was paired with Spiker and a friendship was born.

"She was so young, sweet and gentle," Cavanaugh recalled. "People who can't read feel they've lost something and they feel they're stupid. She was the only reading person I knew who made me feel I was as intelligent as I thought I was."

The women met twice a week at a local library, learning to trust one another while Cavanaugh mastered phonics. The sessions tapered off to once a week, but over the years the teacher-student relationship evolved into a friendship.

"We've gone through a whole lot together in four years," said Spiker, an executive assistant to the chief executive officer of a Columbia corporation. "You can't spend that kind of time together and not get to know someone on a personal level. When we get together, the first 15 minutes are usually spent catching up on what we've been doing the week before."

When they get down to work, they spend up to two hours sounding out words and learning how to apply those skills to everyday activities such as reading a map or doing a needlework project.

As her reading skills improved, Cavanaugh found she was able to share those skills with her grandchildren.

"When my grandson, David, was younger, I would take him to the library to get books together and he would tell me, 'I'm so proud of you,' " she said.

Spiker said the pride Cavanaugh takes in her accomplishments has made her time as a volunteer worthwhile.

"This is the best volunteer experience I can imagine," Spiker said. "I truly feel I've made a difference in someone's life."

As long as Spiker is willing to teach, her friend is willing to learn.

"If she'll meet with me for 10 more years, I'll go," Cavanaugh said. "As long as she'll help me, I'll be there."

Volunteers interested in the county Literacy Council can attend an orientation session at noon or 7: 30 p.m. Wednesdays in Suite 603 of the Empire Towers, 7310 Ritchie Highway in Glen Burnie.

Admission is free.

After the orientation, volunteers can register for the reading tutor training workshops scheduled for Feb. 20 and 27 at the same location. There is a $15 fee for the training.

Gail Wilson, the council's literacy manager, said there is a need for adult reading tutors at the county jails on Jennifer Road in Annapolis and Ordnance Road in Glen Burnie and the Second Genesis program in Crownsville.

For registration information, call Wilson at 410-553-0809.

Soup's on

The Messiah United Methodist Women's annual soup sale is the place to get homemade soup by the pint or quart from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday in the church hall, 7401 Furnace Branch Road.

This year's menu includes chili, chicken noodle, vegetable beef barley, navy bean, potato cheese and wedding soup. Pints are $2.25 and quarts are $4.50. Barbecue, hot dogs with chili and beverages also will be available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Many of the more popular soups sell quickly, so advance orders are suggested by calling Jean Herrin at 410-766-1747 by today.

Valentine bull roast

Bring your sweetheart to a Valentine Shrimp and Bull Roast from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday at the Earleigh Heights Fire Hall, Ritchie Highway and Earleigh Heights Road.

Tickets are $30 in advance. Information: 410-766-7130.

Pub Date: 2/10/99

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