Literacy program bridges generations in Hurtsboro

Students were paired with mentors from the Hurtsboro Senior Citizen Center for the two-week literacy program.

Students were paired with mentors from the Hurtsboro Senior Citizen Center for the two-week literacy program.

A two-week summer program in Hurtsboro, designed to strengthen students’ reading and writing skills, also helped to bring generations in the rural Russell County town together.

Troy University’s Building Relationships in Diverse Generational Environments (BRIDGE) Literacy Project, funded through a grant from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, provided a variety of reading and writing activities, including pairing the rising fourth, fifth and sixth grade students with senior citizens from the Hurtsboro Senior Citizen Center. Students interacted with seniors throughout the two-week program, and interviewed them to produce a published storybook that was presented during the event’s closing ceremony.

“The BRIDGE program is an effort to unite two generations through literacy,” said Dr. Paige Paquette, associate professor in the Department of English at TROY’s Phenix City Campus. “Twenty-three local senior citizens dedicated two weeks of sharing life experiences and reaching out to 21 local students in the fourth through the sixth grades. Throughout the program, the student participants read books, wrote poems, painted pictures, learned interviewing and communication skills and wrote biographies about the senior citizens. Literacy and the arts created a bridge between these two generations, and all of the participants involved have realized they have much to learn from and teach each other.”

The Hurtsboro program comes on the heels of two years of summer literacy programming in partnership with the foundation and the Phenix City Housing Authority’s YES! Summer program. One of the volunteers for last year’s literacy program was Shavaun Franklin, a student in TROY’s College of Education. Now a graduate of the program, Franklin had the desire to give back to her home community of Hurtsboro by conducting a summer literacy program in the town.

Franklin was introduced to Dr. Richard Allen, an OB-GYN at Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital who grew up in Hurtsboro and is the president of the Russell County Training School Alumni Association. Like Franklin, Dr. Allen’s heart for the community had led him to the same vision – a summer program that would benefit the youth of the community.

“I just had a passion for literacy and I wanted to give back to the community,” Franklin said. “Marianne Michael (a staff member at TROY’s Phenix City Campus) connected me with Dr. Richard Allen, telling me that he shared the same passion to do something to help the students in Hurtsboro during the summer.”

Franklin, along with Dr. Paquette and Annette Walters, applied for and received a grant from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation to conduct this year’s event.

“We formed this bond with Troy University over the idea of giving back to the community,” Dr. Allen said. “We all had the same idea and passion about doing something that would be beneficial to the students over the summer. When people say that dreams and visions can come true, this program is a testament to that. I’m overwhelmed by what I got out of the time I interacted with our seniors, and I encourage our students to reflect on what they received from the opportunity they had to interact with these seniors.”

Activities throughout the two-week program taught students about fiction and non-fiction works, biographies and autobiographies, poetry and effective communication and interviewing skills, leading up to their interviews of their senior mentors.

Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Ed Crowell, who is a member of the Troy University Board of Trustees and grew up in the Hurtsboro area, commended the partnership between the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, the University and the community.

“It’s a community that still thrives on cohesiveness and togetherness,” Crowell said. “The caring part strongly exists and that is evident through all of those who have worked together to make this program possible.”

Crowell attended the program’s closing ceremony and addressed the students and seniors.

“It doesn’t matter where you start, it matters where you finish and what you learn along the way,” Crowell said. “I appreciate having had the opportunity to grow up and learn from those within this community, and it is evident that there are still those who take great pride and interest in our youth and our community.”

Jeanette Williams, a retired educator and media specialist, also shared words of encouragement to the program participants during the closing ceremony.

“Education means more than just having knowledge about things,” Williams said. “Having a proper education is very necessary for you to have opportunities to navigate and move about in a complex world. It allows to strive and contribute to your community and your world becoming a better place. Don’t ever doubt yourself. You have so much to offer. Your life holds unlimited potential. When people, like these wonderful seniors, offer wisdom, listen and take to heart what they say.”

At the completion of the program, students received Troy University backpacks, school supplies and an autographed copy of the book “The Butterfly Effect: How Your Life Matters,” by Alabama native Andy Andrews.