Written by Mark Leff Friday, 03 August 2012 00:00On July 11, Literacy Nassau hosted an executive breakfast, held at the offices of Farrell Fritz in Uniondale, featuring Hockey Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine as the special guest speaker. The attendees from the Nassau County business community got to hear LaFontaine’s perspective on giving back to the community, his support for children’s hospitals via his foundation, Companions in Courage, and his recent success in coaching the Long Island Royals junior hockey team to a national championship.
The breakfast was sponsored by Literacy Nassau, based in Freeport. Since its inception 40 years ago, when it was known as Literacy Volunteers of America – Nassau County, Literacy Nassau has had a single and unwavering mission: to promote and foster literacy in Nassau County among adult learners in need of improved skills in basic literacy and English for speakers of other languages.
The services are delivered by trained volunteer tutors in one-to-one and small group learning experiences; students are matched with tutors to achieve the educational, economic and social goals they and their tutors have identified as important to them.
LaFontaine praised the mission of Literacy Nassau, and talked about his experiences as a player and the importance of giving back to the community. He shared his experiences interacting with hospitalized, critically ill children both during and after his NHL career.
Watching these youngsters forced to be brave in such isolating circumstances, shaped the framework for LaFontaine’s foundation, Companions in Courage, which builds interactive playrooms where hospitalized children can “escape” to play Xbox games, surf the Internet, watch movies or have WebEx video conferences with friends, family, celebrities and even Santa Claus during the holidays.
LaFontaine shared how these facilities (currently in 18 hospitals around the country) are impacting children’s lives in such a positive way. Finally, he touched on the story of a well-known National Hockey League coach, Jacques Demers, who could not read or write, and did not admit so until he turned 60. LaFontaine related Demers’ story, and his accompanying feelings of fear and isolation, to the fear and isolation experienced by the children he has worked with through his foundation – explaining that these are universal feelings, and as a people we are morally bound to offer help within our communities whenever we can.
Literacy Nassau Executive Director Karen Micciche then shared the story of her own mother (a Literacy Nassau student) and all the challenges she dealt with as a functionally illiterate adult. “As a housewife, she never needed to read or write. But when my dad left when I was 17, all of a sudden we had no income and she found herself unable to join the technologically savvy work force,” Micciche explained.
Micciche introduced student Frank Haggerty, who told his own story of being a top lacrosse player who competed in front of as many as 3,000 people, but spent years not knowing how to read and write.
Haggerty, who was named Literacy Nassau’s 2012 Student of the Year at their recent recognition night celebration, talked about the difference these services have made in his own life – culminating with the fact that after being laid off in 2008, he just got a new job thanks to the help of his tutor, Amy Karofsky.
According to a study from the U.S. Department of Education, it is estimated that 93 million U.S. adults have basic and below basic literacy skills. One of the conclusions from this study found that half of the adults who did not have a high school diploma performed in the below basic levels.
Literacy Nassau addresses the needs of functionally illiterate students from all walks of life including those who have grown up and gone to school here as well as many immigrants who come to the United States.
The best way to support Literacy Nassau is to become a volunteer or make a donation. They also hold a number of activities during the course of the year, their main event “unScrabble” is held every spring. The “unScrabble” event is a fun filled evening where a form of the game Scrabble is played with awards given out to the top teams during a buffet dinner.
LaFontaine commented, “Literacy Nassau is changing the world – one word at a time,” and the impact it makes on the lives of its participants is immeasurable. To learn more about getting involved in supporting Literacy Nassau’s mission, please call (516) 867-3580.