By Milon Townsend June 3, 2010 5:54 p.m.
In the back of a crowded room, James Carter rigorously studies the sentence, slowly reading one word at a time, “Dan-n-n picks up the box and puts the s-s-snake in the r-r-river.”
Carter may be reading at a first-grade level, but he has far out-aged grade school. He is learning to do something most people take for granted, learning to read — at the age of 70.
“It’s been rough for me,” Carter said. “But I think I am doing good.”
Growing up was not easy for Carter. He started working at when he was 9, and said he never spent a single day in school.
“I just worked all the time,” Carter said. “I traveled all around the world on boxcars.”
Carter is finally getting the chance he never got growing up, with the help of an Adult Literacy League volunteer and the Vine Thrift Store in Oviedo.
Jim Lewis, a 70-year-old retired English teacher who volunteers his time at the Adult Legacy League, has been working with Carter an hour and a half, twice a week, for the last year.
“Mr. James is a client, but he is more than that — he is certainly a buddy, and although he started off really basic he’s doing very well now,” Lewis said. “He never got to learn any comprehension skills or think quickly, until now, so it was all about survival… not a single day in school for an American citizen, isn’t that a tragedy?”
The two began meeting at the library, but quickly decided The Vine Thrift Store, the place that brought them together, was better suited for their weekly sessions.
“We decided the library wasn’t working for us, but this (the Vine Thrift Store) did,” Lewis said. “And Cindy was like the angel in the middle.”
Vine Thrift Store owner Cindy Cook said she helped the two become a pair after she learned Carter, who is known as Mr. James around her store, could not even read simple things like street signs.
“We’re not angels, we are just doing our part, and this is just a little part,” Cook said. “If everybody would just do a little bit, then the world would be easier for other people. If we just pay attention to them and listen to them and maybe see who they are really are, then maybe Mr. James would have learned to read a long time ago.”
She also said they are so happy to be helping him, and everyone at the store is so proud of his progress.
“We are so excited for Mr. James; it’s like a dream come true for him,” said Cook. “That was all he wanted all his life was to read and write.”
According to the Adult Literacy League’s Web site, one in five Central Florida adults reads at or below the fifth-grade reading level.
Carter is trying to overcome this statistic and live the life of he’s always dreamed of; a life not of just survival, but of accomplishment.
“I prayed all my life for something like this to happen to me,” Carter said. “My dream’s come true now.”
For more information on adult literacy visit http://www.adultliteracyleague.org.