WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — Imagine being unable to read the medication bottle you picked up at the drugstore or being unable to read the note your child’s teacher sent home. 

That is the reality for 45 million Americans who are functionally illiterate. They can’t read above a fifth-grade level, but there is a place in the Piedmont where people can turn for help.

“I knew there were certain words that I would struggle with so I would read and try to sound them out before the teacher called on me and it would bring about such stress and anxiety to me that I never want a kid to have to feel that way.”

That is a big part of the reason why Shatoria Whiteside founded the nonprofit agency called “R.E.A.D.” The acronym stands for “Read, Empower, and Distinguish” because Whiteside says, being able to read is about empowering people and allowing them to lead better lives.

“When families are low literate, they struggle across many areas in their lives including education, obtaining jobs, being able to just thrive in everyday life, and so our mission is to be able to provide educational resources, tutoring, and job accessibility to these families,” she says.

Statistics show students who aren’t proficient in reading by third grade are more likely to end up in prison or in poverty later in life, and sometimes, children need more help than teachers are able to give at school.

“So reading is not a one-size-fits-all kind of subject and a lot of times in the school system or the school setting, teachers are limited with time, resources, classroom sizes, and they’re not able to give that one-on-one support to students.” 

“R.E.A.D.” can help fill the gap by providing tutors to teach reading, but with help from partners such as the Winston-Salem Foundation, the agency also works with entire families through its Parent Academy where moms and dads train on foundational skills. Whiteside says low-literate families frequently have esteem issues.

“Everything in life is kind of knocking them down, not everything, but a lot of things are knocking them down. They have a lot of barriers that they deal with, things that we take for granted like transportation that works all of the time, food, being able to get clothes, being able to wash your clothes.”

In addition to the Parent Academy, “R.E.A.D.” has a program called “Trade-Off.”  It helps adult learners trade a life of poverty for a life of success.  Volunteers work with people so they can train for jobs such as truck drivers and bookkeepers.

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“Currently our oldest client is 84 years old,” says Whiteside, “so we really do serve learners across the lifespan.”  She says it’s proof that literacy is a vehicle that can take you anywhere you want to go whenever you’re ready.

“As someone that struggled with literacy as a young girl, reading and comprehension skills in particular, my life changed when I learned the power that lies in being able to read and comprehend and understand.” 

“R.E.A.D.” is embarking on a program called “Paint the City “Read.” It’s a play on “Paint the City Red.” Volunteers will help get children in Winston-Salem on track with books. The goal is to expand into 10 North Carolina cities, then go statewide, and ultimately, nationwide, but volunteers will be needed. If you’re interested, check out