Fresh face comes to Literary Council of White County

By Emily Van Zandt Originally Published December 16, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated December 14, 2012 at 12:22 p.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Amanda Partridge is director of the White County Literacy Council. She may be only 22, but she relishes her opportunity in a big role. Partrdige’s love for literature began at a young age, and she’s carried it on ever since.

Amanda Partridge may be young, but she’s got a big job.

As program director of the Literacy Council of White County, Partridge spends her days both running the bookstore that funds the nonprofit and planning its literacy programs. That means all the grant-writing, bookkeeping and fundraising that goes with it. It’s a big jump for a girl who was still finishing college exams at this time last year.

“I know I’m surprised,” Partridge said, laughing. “I can’t speak for anyone else.”

Partridge’s love for literature began when she was a young girl. Books such as Dr. Seuss’ Because a Little Bug Went Ka-Choo! kept her entertained for hours. In high school, her passion for literature grew, and by the time she graduated, she knew she’d choose a path that involved writing.

As an English major at Harding University in Searcy, Partridge got involved with the school’s poetry club, creative writing club and French club. When she graduated last December, she moved back to her hometown of Little Rock to live with her parents and pursue a career in freelance writing. That’s when the call came to move back to Searcy.

“A friend was in the bookstore and heard the director was retiring, and they needed someone new,” Partridge said.

Though she’d never imagined moving back to her college town — she had her mind set on moving to St. Louis — Partridge eagerly applied for the job.

Though decades younger than her predecessor, Ann Nieto, something about Partridge’s youth appealed to the board of directors.

“I think that I have a fresh perspective and a lot of energy,” Partridge said. “The tendency of my generation, I think, is to move faster when you’re overwhelmed.”

Though she was admittedly a little scared when she started the job, Partridge is quickly acclimating to her work. First on her agenda is getting more volunteers.

“Right now, we have 17 or so tutors and around 40 students,” Partridge said. “But we have a waiting list of around 20 students right now who are wanting to get help.”

Tutors don’t need to have a degree in English or literature, but they do have to complete a three-hour training course through the council. One-on-one tutoring is offered, free of charge, to people in the area who are 18 and older. Help is offered for those looking to study for the GED or learn English as a second language, and for adults who need help with basic skills they may have missed in school. Many adults come to the center struggling with basic reading.

“In Arkansas, the illiteracy rate is between 15 and 20 percent,” Partridge said. “In older generations, it happened because there wasn’t a law saying you had to finish high school, and many times the oldest child would drop out and work if a family needed money.”

Younger adults occasionally “fall through the cracks” in school, Partridge explained, some getting passed on to the next grade because teachers feel bad holding them back. For adults who struggle with basic reading skills, coming forward for help can often be a challenge.

“We live in a written culture,” Partridge said. “It’s a skill that everyone assumes everyone around them has. So it’s a little embarrassing to admit you have trouble with what is considered such a basic skill.”

Reaching those in need of help also poses a challenge to Partridge. Because many potential students don’t read newspapers or magazines, the council has to reach out by methods such as radio advertisements and hope that word of mouth about the council spreads.

Though the council’s bookstore, 2nd Time Around, and tutoring center are in downtown Searcy, Partridge said, many residents don’t know they exist. It’s a situation that poses a problem for the council’s fundraising.

“This is a rather neglected part of downtown,” Partridge said. “Fundraising is a big goal next year. Right now, we’re having to erase workbooks and have students write in them again.”

Currently, the majority of funding to keep the store open comes from profits from the used-book store. Books, all donated, are sold for 50 cents to $4 each. The bookstore is tiny, and shelves are currently packed to capacity, so the store is currently not accepting book donations, Partridge said.

When she’s not at the bookstore and tutoring center, Partridge works as a circuit coach at the Curves gym in Searcy. In her spare time, she helps friends working on literary magazines and fits in some personal fiction writing for fun.

Though she was nervous at first, after nearly three months on the job, Partridge is settling in just fine.

“I think when I realized that it wasn’t just me, I relaxed,” Partridge said. “We’ve got such a great board and people who come in to help. It’s a great learning experience.”

Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

Staff Writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at 501-399-3688 or emily@syncweekly.com.

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