When Marshall citizens were forced indoors a year ago due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, many community members chose to take the time to further their education.

Whether it was to improve their job prospects, or to fulfill a personal goal, the Marshall Harrison County Literacy Council supplied the tools these community members needed to get their General Educational Development certificate, or GED’s.

“People don’t finish high school for a huge variety of reasons, and when they come into the office interested in getting their GED, that already is such a huge step,” said director Karen Bickerdike.

She said that the difference in wages from somebody with a GED and someone without one is about $4 or $5 an hour.

“A lot of people decided that when they had time, they were going to seize the opportunity and try for their GED,” Bickerdike said.

This is just one of the many free tutoring services offered by the literacy council in Marshall, according to Bickerdike, who said that while GED students signed up more significantly after the outbreak of COVID-19, the council also has tutoring for English as a second language, adult literacy tutoring, SAT prep and more.

The council is a nonprofit organization, with the goal of encouraging and growing interested community members to reach their personal literacy goals.

“One third of Harrison County is low literate or what we call ‘functionally literate’,” Bickerdike said. “That can be stressful, and burdensome for someone to deal with every day.”

She called the Harrison County Literacy Council a “shame free zone” stating that anyone who comes to the office seeking help is not only encouraged, but applauded for taking the steps to get there.

“There is no shame here, that first step you take is the most confident one you’ll ever take, and we know what it means to have someone come in and ask for help,” she said.

As the mother of two dyslexic children, Bickerdike said that she deeply understand the need to approach education in a unique way, catered to each individual and what they want or need from the experience.

She described one experience with her then three-year-old who asked her to teach them to read, which Bickerdike said sparked a passion in her, leading her to join the council as director three years ago.

“When someone comes in we assume no prior knowledge, everyone starts at zero, then we learn what you know and we work up to address those needs more specifically,” she said.

In July 2020 the group faced another challenge, converting all of their tutoring to online formats to help protect the safety of tutors and students.

The council even provided computers to community members who did not have access to the equipment needed, and working with the library to be sure all of their students had proper access to the internet.

“Our tutors tend to be very tech savy, but some of our students, particularly out ESL students, really struggled with the online forum,” Bickerdike said.

But working with students and tutors to continue to facilitate these tutoring sessions, Bickerdike said that one of the students who joined in 2020 for GED assistance recently graduated in January 2021 with her certificate.

“Now she is moving on to college,” Bickerdike said, “So it goes to show, even in a pandemic it can be done.”

The Marshall Harrison County Literacy Council is also celebrating a special anniversary this year, the 20th anniversary of its annual Corporate Spelling Bee, the largest fundraiser that the organization puts on every year.

The event features contestants from local organizations and businesses, all competing in a spelling bee to win top prize, or the coveted annual spirit stick award.

“We have a lot of fun every year, and the community always comes out and supports us immensely,” Bickerdike said.

Last years event was hosted for the first time via an online platform, which Bickerdike said was so successful they plan to continue to stream the event online, even after they can once again meet with teams in person.

“That way everyone who can’t make it out can still participate and watch the event,” she said.

Though the literacy council is still operating on an online only tutoring platform, Bickerdike said that they are hoping to go back to safe, in person tutoring sessions in the near future.

When that occurs, she said that the council will be on the look out for more volunteer tutors to help out. The tutor would provide two hours a week to the program, being paired up with the student and working together to reach their literacy goals.

Anyone interested in volunteering, or learning more about the organization can stop by the non-profit’s office at 114 E Grand Ave., Marshall or contact Bickerdike at (903) 935-0962 or mhclc117@gmail.com.

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