Virginia Guidi, an Alexandria public librarian, is looking for people who can't read.
Armed with a new $18,000 grant from the Virginia State Library, Guidi is setting up a literacy tutoring program aimed at adults who want to learn to read and write.
Even in Northern Virginia, one of the most affluent and highly educated areas of the state, there are people who do not know how to balance a checkbook, interpret a Metro bus schedule or enjoy a library because they cannot read, the librarian said.
"There are a number of low-income people in Alexandria and they're the people this program is aimed at," she said.
So far, Guidi has lined up 20 volunteer tutors to start the program. A training workshop for these tutors will be held at the Church of the Resurrection on Beauregard Street the last three Saturday mornings in January, she said.
The cost of the tutor training session will come from the $18,000 grant, part of federal funds givenstates for literacy education. The grant also will help cover registration and book fees for those students who cannot afford these costs, she said.
Guidi's effort is part of a campaign launched last April by Gov. Gerald L. Baliles and his wife Jeannie to reduce Virginia's 22 percent illiteracy rate.
That figure translates into about 650,000 adults across the state who lack basic reading and writing skills to some degree, according to Stephen A. Nunes, director of Virginia's Office on Adult Literacy in Richmond. Virginia's illiteracy rate puts it "right about in the middle" compared with other states, he said.
Illiteracy often is tied to economic factors and unemployment, which explains why many Virginians who cannot read and write live in the poorer sections of the state in the southwest, Nunes said.
The Baliles' "Virginia Literacy Initiative" combines the resources of the privately run Virginia Literacy Foundation and the public sector's State Adult Literacy Committee, composed of state agencies, libraries and colleges, Nunes said.
These groups will present a two-year, $4.2 million budget proposal for literacy education to the General Assembly, which begins its session Wednesday, Nunes said. "We have received tremendous support and I don't anticipate too much opposition," he said.
In addition, those supporting the literacy campaign are planning a conference in February in Richmond at which private and public sector representatives will present updates on their efforts, Nunes said.
Among the local groups that are supporting the literacy campaign is the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia, which has been in existence for 25 years, according to its executive director, Elsa Angell.
"We have about 400 volunteer tutors teaching right now in Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria," Angell said.
Although newly arrived immigrants make up a large number of those who have asked for literacy tutoring in Northern Virginia, most are American-born, Angell said.
As of last March, the council was tutoring 259 English-speaking adults and 167 nonnative English speakers, she said.
Angell said illiteracy is partly explained by the still-large numbers of high school dropouts. Nationwide, she said, 25 percent of the high school population does not graduate.
In addition, "there are people graduating from high school in Northern Virginia with a below fourth grade reading level," she said. "Not in great numbers, but it does happen."