EDINBURG, RGV – This Saturday, the South Texas Literacy Coalition will be hosting their ninth annual Historias de la Vida Celebration where they will be honoring “literacy heroes” from across the Rio Grande Valley.

Dr. Ida Acuña-Garza, CEO of STLC, said that the individuals and organizations that were chosen each showed a passion for making a difference in the community, particularly in literacy.

Pharr-San Juan-Alamo I.S.D. Superintendent Dr. Daniel P. King and Emma Gonzalez, author of “Field Mice: Memoirs of a Migrant Child,” were selected for the group’s individual category. King will be recognized for his work with students who dropped out of high school. By encouraging them to finish and having graduation ceremonies to acknowledge their accomplishment, he provides students a second chance for a brighter future.

As the winner of two International Latino Book Awards, Gonzalez was chosen to spotlight the great literary talent here in the Rio Grande Valley. In her memoirs, Gonzalez shares about the hardships she experienced as a migrant child and how getting an education empowered her and allowed her to chase her dreams.

For the organization category, the Alamo Community Resource Center was selected because of their work with residents of the poverty-stricken and crime-ridden area known as “Little Mexico.” Acuña-Garza says that the center has been a rock for community, partnering with STLC on several outreach events for adults and children.

Rounding out the honorees is the Continuing, Professional and Workforce Education department of South Texas College. Through their ESL and GED prep courses, the department is boosting adult literacy and creating a pathway for people to move on to postsecondary education.

Acuña-Garza says that working to improve literacy is vital to our region. Reading is the No. 1 predictor of academic success, and according to the Texas Center for Adult Learning and Literacy at Texas A&M, Hidalgo County has an illiteracy rate of about 50 percent, with Starr, Willacy and Cameron County not faring any better.

“Literacy is in every part of your life. Reading street signs, reading labels on medication bottles, reading labels on food, how you manage your money – budgeting, saving, credit management – reading contracts, making investments, [it’s] everything,” said Acuña-Garza.

Because of the Rio Grande Valley’s large literacy needs, former U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa formed the coalition in 2008 to serve residents from Laredo to Brownsville, covering the same area as Region One. With poverty being a major factor in illiteracy, Hinojosa’s goal was to encourage early reading by providing books to children whose parents would otherwise not be able to afford them. Through the South Texas Reading Initiative, STLC now distributes about 60,000 books a year.

“Our goal is to get those children so passionate about reading that they pick up the book and they can hardly wait to turn the page to see what happens next,” said Acuña-Garza. “When you can do that for a child that they can read anything.”

In addition to distributing books for children, the coalition also provides education and training for adults. Lori Colunga, an AmeriCorps VISTA worker for STLC, teaches financial literacy classes to help people gain control of their finances. Denisse Sada, a resource development assistant with AmeriCorps VISTA, works with different organizations to develop programs based solid research that will further foster literacy in the Valley. This includes working with professors at UTRGV to training daycare workers to read aloud to children.

Acuña-Garza says that although the coalition does so much, there is always more to be done. Currently, the coalition is looking to add six to 10 board members to expand their mission. And, like any nonprofit, donations are always welcome to continue their efforts.

For more information about the South Texas Literacy Coalition, visit their website at http://www.southtexaslitcoalition.org