CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Sonny Force turns in his homework assignments more dependably than the junior high school students Don Hallock taught for years.
"I'm used to 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds. I've adjusted well to (teaching) a 72-year-old," Hallock said.
Hallock and Force were brought together by the Franklin County (Pa.) Literacy Council as tutor and student. Force is studying math, history and reading in his quest to obtain a GED six decades after he dropped out of high school.
He is one of 60 people enrolled in the program, and there's a waiting list behind him. That's why the literacy council is searching for more volunteers like Hallock, a retired teacher who started volunteering his time about five years ago.
"There are lots of people out there who are not literate and could use our services. We always have more students than tutors," said Franklin B. Thomas, program coordinator.
Citing statistics that one in five adults in the United States are not literate past an eighth-grade level, Thomas said his organization's clients are generally U.S. natives who didn't finish their K-12 education and immigrants whose primary language is not English.
"A lot of times, people come in and they need a GED for a job and they don't have it. Everyone comes in and has a different need for why they need assistance," Thomas said.
Clients and tutors are required to meet for a minimum of three hours a week, usually at the literacy council's main office on West Commerce Street in Chambersburg. The 31-year-old program, which is part of Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12, also has a second, smaller office in Chambersburg, and some pairs meet in churches and libraries.
Noting the growing waiting list for adult students to receive services, Thomas said: "Finding qualified and motivated tutors is not always easy."
The literacy council will host a training session from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 9, at 256 S. Main St. in Chambersburg. Volunteers are required to have a bachelor's degree and Pennsylvania criminal clearances, the latter of which can be obtained through the assistance of the literacy council.
Many of the volunteers, like Hallock, are retired teachers who have experience with lesson plans and achievement tracking paperwork.
Hallock said he feels it is important to give back to other people. And it doesn't hurt that Force laughs at his jokes.
"We're both still kids at heart," said Hallock, 64.
Force said he was laid off from Letterkenny Army Depot and couldn't obtain another job due to not having a high school diploma or GED. He still hopes to work with generators again.
He talked to ninth-graders about the importance of education, and cherishes letters he received from 10 grateful students who were considering whether to continue with school themselves.
He also is proud of the 32 books he has read since tutoring began.
"I hadn't read a book in my life," he said.
Thomas said the literacy council gets referrals from PA CareerLink, human services providers, GED testing coordinators and churches.
One woman had a diploma from a West Virginia high school, but came to the literacy council because she never actually learned to read.
"She was in tears because she wanted to read to her children who were in second or third grade," Thomas said.
Statistically, if not diagnosed by fourth grade, problems like dyslexia and attention-deficit disorder can go undetected, causing a student to slip through the cracks as they advance through the grades, he said.
The literacy council's students must demonstrate growth to keep the council eligible for state funding, which is supplemented by United Way dollars and other donations.
Finding donors can be difficult because the cause might not have the pull of starving children or abandoned animals, Thomas said. There are challenges with stigma, awareness and recognizing societal problems with the education system, he said.
"The bottom line is it's a bigger problem than most people want to acknowledge," Thomas said.
Still, being able to read is a gift and can change someone's world when they understand a sign for the first time, he said.
Franklin County Literacy Council is seeking more volunteers. For more information about volunteering or to register for training, call 717-504-4459