“A mother was holding a child and looking at a medicine bottle, and she couldn’t read. ‘Do I give a teaspoon? A tablespoon? A cup?’ Oh, my God – she could kill this child because she couldn’t read. I was hooked.”
That’s how Paula Adelman describes the photo that prompted her to join the organization that was just being created. She was a 27-year-old with three small children when she saw the slide show Sister Benigna and Agnes Beckwith were using.
So Paula went to that first training. When Sister decided that Paula should be president, she was horrified. “I had three children, and the oldest was four! I kept saying, ‘I can’t do that,” she remembers.
But she found a babysitter, rolled up her sleeves, and got to work–for decades. After serving as president, she became a tutor. She loved what she learned about others’ lives when she tutored.
Teaching and learning
“I learned more about chickens!” she says. One of her students’ family had a chicken farm. “You collect them at night, and they get bronchitis!” Another student worked in the laundry at St. Joseph’s Hospital, and she met him in the laundry room for tutoring.
Paula also taught her colleagues a few things. Returning from a conference focused on cultural differences, Paula took her fellow tutors to a kosher deli. “I was the token Jew,” she says. Laughing, she told the others, “Now you’re going to learn about my culture!”
50 years later
Paula was part of Literacy Volunteers for a quarter of a century. She still takes an active interest. She helped us get this history started, and she spoke at both the 2018 “Toolkit for Tutors” workshop and at our 2019 fundraiser, the Annual Literacy Tea.