[Photo: Attendees enjoyed the celebration last week at the Robert A. Wright Agriculture Building in Hoke County.]
By Catharin Shepard • Editor • Cosandera Melvin had a computer at home, but didn’t know how to use it.
While getting her hair done one day, a friend told her about the Saturday computer classes at the Hoke Reading and Literacy Council.
“Immediately she gave me Cousin Barbara (Tyson)’s name and number and said to call her and she’ll get you in,” Melvin recalled.
Since then, the Hoke resident has not only learned how to use a computer, she was named the 2022-2023 adult student with the most contact hours in the computer lab at the Hoke Reading and Literacy Council.
“It’s not only a learning process for me, it’s a joy just being there,” she told a crowd of supporters last week at the Robert A. Wright Agriculture Building.
Melvin is just one of the countless students who have learned computer skills, pursued a G.E.D. program or improved their reading ability, over the 45 years that the Hoke Reading and Literacy Council has been around.
The nonprofit organization held a special dinner and celebration last Friday night to recognize the occasion and shine a light on the many hard-working students and staff who make it all possible – and to remember those who were there at the beginning.
When it was founded nearly half a century ago, the Reading and Literacy Council was one of dozens like it across the state. Today, it stands alone as having stood the test of time. That’s something special, Council Board of Directors Chairman Rodney Fairley said.
“It’s so special because I think we’re the only county in North Carolina that has a literacy department left. All the rest of them went by the wayside,” he said. “What we do, even though it’s Hoke County, when we have children or adults that’s not in the county, we still let them come.”
Fairley gave credit for the Council’s success to its many supporters, including the county leaders.
“We have to give the county commissioners (credit) because they support us. I don’t know what happened in those other counties. And we know each county commissioner hasn’t been there for 45 years, so that means all of them have been supporting us through the years,” he said.
Good people, too, who are willing to go above and beyond for others have been responsible for keeping the council going.
“To have good board members and a good staff that loves children. To be successful you have to love children, you have to love adults, you have to love people,” Fairley said.
The Hoke Reading and Literacy Council staff at present includes Executive Director Dr. Tracey Ferguson, Office Manager Barbara Tyson, Reading and Writing Tutor/Coach Sharon B. Foy, Tutor Erica Dunham and Computer Lab Facilitator and Tutor Laura Haygood. The board of directors includes Fairley, Vice Chairman Rev. Mary Ann Timmons, Secretary AnnaBel Gueta, Treasurer Jason Strickland, and members Catherine Blue, Ray Crumpler, Gilbert Johnson, Nancy Johnson, Dorothy McLaughlin, Elizabeth Mitchell and Don Woods.
Some of the founding board members who helped start the Hoke Reading and Literacy Council included Ruth Ansley, Raz Autry, Ethelynde Balance, Charles Blackburn, Lawrence Bounds, Harold Brewer, Tony Buie, Dot Cameron, Rev. Robert Denton, Willie Featherstone, the Rev. James Glenn, Ann Howell, Eva Jacobs, Rev. W.K. Mitchell, Nina Morrisey, Eva J. Prevatte, Don Steed, Lois Strother, Eldress Louise Thomas, Mina Townsend, J.W. Turlington, Rev. Milton H. Williams and Jean L. Wilson. The first staff members included Barbara Buie and Reba Holmes.
The Council has had four directors: Buie, Constance Hollingsworth-Pierce, Carol Taitt and now Ferguson.
Hoke Reading and Literacy Council Executive Director Dr. Tracey Ferguson offered acknowledgements at the event.
“It’s overwhelming to think that this organization has survived for 45 years and has affected so many people in a positive way, children and adults,” she said. “We just pray for 45 more years.”
Board of Directors Vice Chairman Mary Ann Timmons, a longtime Hoke County Schools teacher, praised Ferguson and the other council staff.
“She has brought in just so many good ideas to implement, because she is an educator, plus Sharon Foy is an educator, Barbara (Buie) who’s been here for 35 years – they just have a heart for children. That’s why they’re able to relate to them, and be able to teach them so they can be successful in life,” Timmons said.
A slideshow presentation at the event shared photos of past successes and a memorial list of the names of dozens of people who gave their support to the Reading and Literacy Council over the years, who have since passed away.
The program also recognized student Leilani Nieves, who completed the program, and William Wright, who was the 2022-2023 most improved adult student. The celebration served a catered dinner, with live music provided by the Ol’ Skool Band.
The evening featured Buie as the guest speaker. She detailed the history of the program and how it has impacted lives in the community.
“I am delighted that it is ongoing. I think of all the early people that put so much into making it, they deserve to have it ongoing, and I can see them turning over in their graves thinking, they made it,” Buie said. “There were so many people early on who did good jobs.”
To Buie, it means a lot to see the program still going strong 45 years after its founding.
“It means a lot to me…I was there in the beginning, and anything you put soul into, you want to see it continue to grow,” she said.
And as long as the Hoke Reading and Literacy Council is around, people like Cosandera Melvin will get to keep on learning with their support.
“I truly give honor to God and I thank God for the staff and everybody that’s down there on Saturday mornings,” Melvin said in her remarks. “It’s not only a learning process for me, it’s just a joy, because not only do we have computer classes, we even have a little church.”