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ABC11 Together Perspectives for April 18, 2021

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ABC11 Together highlights the strength of the human spirit, good deeds, community needs, and how our viewers can help

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

- ABC 11 Together presents "Perspectives".

BARBARA GIBBS: And welcome to ABC 11 Together "Perspectives". I'm Barbara Gibbs. Well, spring is festival season in North Carolina. Unfortunately though, the pandemic is still impacting many events. This year, the traditional Dogwood Festival will not be taking place in downtown Fayetteville. But organizers do plan to hold a mini fest. We're going to tell you what that will involve a little later in the show. The Tobacco Road Marathon returns this year for in-person full and half marathons. We're going to talk to organizers about the changes this year because of the pandemic.

And DPAC's Triangle Rising Stars theater competition for high school students is also making a comeback this year after getting cancelled in 2020. We'll hear about the plans for a virtual competition that will happen next month. But first, since 1985, the Durham Literacy Center has provided free instruction and tutoring to more than 18,000 adults and out of school youth. Amid Durham's growth and change, the DLC remains the leading independent adult literacy provider in Durham County, the only community based organization focused entirely on adult literacy.

On May 25, DLC will be hosting his 14th annual Leaders In Literacy breakfast. And this year, the event will be virtual. Joining me today to talk about the literacy center and their upcoming fundraisers are Lizzie Ellis Furlong, the center's executive director, and Joan Zec Nelson, the ESOL program coordinator. Thank you both for being with us.

LIZZIE ELLIS-FURLONG: Thank you for having us, Barbara. Delighted to be here.

BARBARA GIBBS: Absolutely. So either one of you, what does the Durham Literacy do?

LIZZIE ELLIS-FURLONG: Well, you did an excellent job giving an overview of our programs in the Durham Literacy Center. We help adults reach their educational goals. And typically, these are low skill adults, or people who lack a high school diploma. And they're working on improving their literacy skills, improving their English language skills, and getting that high school equivalency diploma that most people call the GED. And we do this with the help of about 230 volunteer tutors and a staff of 12.

We also integrate all kinds of other literacies and our primary instruction. And that includes digital literacy, which as you can imagine, is extremely important right now, especially during the pandemic. And we also have financial literacy, parent literacy, and we help folks connect to their college and career goals as well.

BARBARA GIBBS: So what services do you provide that you think makes your organization stand out, especially in your immediate area?

LIZZIE ELLIS-FURLONG: That's an excellent question. And thank you for that. So because we are a community based alternative to the institutional offerings that are here in Durham such as the community college, we help folks who may be intimidated or need really additional support to meet those goals, they need more flexibility, and our center is very kind of informal. When you come in, we want to break down those barriers so that people feel welcome.

Oftentimes, our students are doing something that is something that they didn't do well when they were younger. And so we want to break down those barriers and really provide a family like environment that's very relational to support them in their long term goals.

BARBARA GIBBS: Wow. Awesome. Joan, tell me how have things adapted during the pandemic would you say?

JOAN ZEC NELSON: Well, our last classes were March 12 at 2020 we have face to face classes. And when we closed down, it took a week or two before we decide to go back via Zoom. And it was not easy. We have adapted very well. But initially, we only had about 30% of our students who were capable of going online. It quickly became apparent that they were missing computers, digital literacy, internet. And so it was a concerted effort of donors, tutors, the community to pull together.

And through the rest of that semester and the summer, we were able to get a lot of computers to lend students. We had classes. There were people at the building who could come out to people's cars. The parking lot was then made internet accessible. It was a long project. But now we're up to about 60% of our original number of students.

BARBARA GIBBS: Wow. Can you tell us about the breakfast that is coming up in May? What are you going to be discussing?

JOAN ZEC NELSON: I think Lizzie is hosting that. And she should probably be the one to talk about that.

BARBARA GIBBS: OK, perfect. Can you tell me, Lizzie?

LIZZIE ELLIS-FURLONG: Yeah. So this will be our 14th annual Leaders in Literacy breakfast. Obviously, we're not going to be in person this year due to safety concerns around the pandemic. So we're going to have an online live event the morning of May 25 at 8:00 AM. And we invite anyone to come and join us. And we also are seeking business sponsors who may be interested in getting some additional promotional support and also just to be and join us at the event.

And so at this event, we are going to be highlighting the resilience and the determination of our adult students and our youth GED students as they've really persisted through the pandemic to meet their educational goals. However, we're going to highlight the issues around digital equity. What we learn, we knew this before the pandemic. And now we know it is even more significant is that folks don't have adequate internet access. And we know that this affects every aspect of our lives.

So by not having the digital skills and the adequate internet access that our community really needs, our students are really left out. So we're going to have a panel of local experts and national experts. And we'd really love for you to join us at the breakfast and reach out to us. Our website is durhamliteracy.org.

BARBARA GIBBS: All right. Thank you, Lizzie Ellis Furlong and Joan Zec Nelson, for your time today.

JOAN ZEC NELSON: We appreciate you having us. Thank you so much.

BARBARA GIBBS: Of course. Well, the annual Dogwood Festival is getting scaled down this year. Just ahead on ABC 11 Together "Perspectives" details on what this year's mini fest will look like over the fourth weekend of April.