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Friends of Literacy: 10 percent of adults in Knoxville are functionally illiterate

The nonprofit helps adults improve their education and depends on the United Way.

Sharon Kocuba has been a teacher for more than 20 years, but she never tires of seeing the impact an education can have on someone, no matter their age.

“You may see an older student out in the neighborhood later who’s done beyond what they did in my class. It’s a success story,” Kocuba said.

Angelita Ortiz, a mother of two, is one of Kocuba’s students at Friends of Literacy, a nonprofit that helps adults improve their reading, writing and math skills.

“She does her homework every night. She asks questions and is very honest about what she knows and what she doesn’t know. She’s the ideal student,” Kocuba said.

Ortiz grew up in New York where she dropped out of school at an early age.

“I made bad choices when I was younger,” Ortiz said. “I was a troubled teenager and dropped out at an early age. I’m glad I came here.”

In 2018, 174 adults took classes at Friends of Literacy. 80 percent started at or below an 8th grade level. 60 percent started below 6th grade.

“People should care about their community. No matter who’s doing a literacy, it’s to benefit the community. I’ve been a Knoxville resident for many years, and I’ve seen it grow. I want to see it continue to grow. The only way you’re going to do that is to help everyone become literate,” Kocuba said.

Friends of Literacy depends on donations and the United Way for funding because 88 percent of their budget goes towards student programming.

“Since we are nonprofit, we have to go pound the drums for our money. That’s where United Way can help us fund a portion of what we need to run Friends of Literacy. It helps with books, materials, even laptops sometimes,” Kocuba said.

Kocuba believes that when people like Ortiz succeed, we all do.