Every day, as the executive director of Literacy Connects, I see the real impact that literacy, or a lack thereof, has on individual lives and the community at large. I’m writing to bring awareness to National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week (Sept. 26 to Oct. 1), and to acknowledge the place that literacy holds in our community.

I recently sat down with one of our Adult Basic Literacy students to talk with him about the role that literacy has played in his life. As a young man, Robert Soto loved school. “I loved to read,” he said. However, he went to work on oil rigs before he graduated from high school. The money was good and he enjoyed working with his hands. From working on oil rigs, to working as a construction foreman to being a manager of auto sales, Robert always held down a good job, but he eventually found it difficult to navigate the job market without a GED.

“I wanted to move forward,” Robert said, and so he contacted Arizona@Work for some guidance. They referred him to the Lindsey Learning Center, a collaboration between Literacy Connects and Arizona@Work, that provides skills improvement and GED preparation to job seekers. In his own words, Robert “just kept chipping away” and eventually went on to earn his GED last spring. Literacy Connects “empowered me to take steps … I feel confident,” he said, reflecting on his time in our program.

“You can go further in life,” Robert says of being able to read and write. When asked what he planned to do next, he was quick with his answer, “Practice law!” He hopes to enroll at the University of Arizona to get his bachelor’s degree, so that one day he can “get a job in the community helping people to go in a good direction.”

Perhaps the most touching part of Robert’s story is the example he set for his grandchildren. One of his grandsons always tells him, “You know a lot of words. You’re really smart!” Robert passes on his love of learning to his grandchildren. He believes that being able to read and write gives children better self-esteem.

The education level of a parent or guardian is the best predictor of a child’s success in school. Parents and guardians are the first (and often best) teachers, and that is why investing in adult literacy paves the road to success for generation after generation. When you think of the National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, think of Robert and his grandson, and all the future generations that will come after them. We have to prioritize literacy.

Literacy is the foundation that a community stands on. It is important for academic, economic, and personal success. According to the Arizona State Department of Education, fewer than 10 percent of Arizonans in need of literacy services are being served.

But that can change.

Contact Literacy Connects to learn more about the state of literacy in Southern Arizona, and how you can make a difference by investing in literacy in our community. Visit us on the web today at literacyconnects.org.

Betty Stauffer is the executive director at Literacy Connects. Email her at bstauffer@literacyconnects.org