As part of its introduction into affairs of the community, the Ardmore Leadership Class was treated Thursday to the unveiling of the Ardmore Literacy Initiative. The initiative is an extensive literacy program.

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation identified Ardmore as a location to implement the program to address critical needs. The seven national partners are:

• The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy — Family Literacy, LLC, Ardmore Adult Education & Head Start

• National Center for Family Literacy

• The U.S. Chamber Foundation, Ardmore Chamber of Commerce

• Pro Literacy — New Dimensions, Grace Center and St. Mary's Church

• American Library Association

• Jobs for the Future

Doug Pfau, warehouse manager for Dollar General, said more than $1 million has been invested in Ardmore for the extensive program, which covers people of all ages.

"Literacy is a big part of our mission and values," Pfau said.

Caitlin Codella, senior manager for programs, education and workforce with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, provided the background on the comprehensive literacy effort and introduced the Mentor Volunteer Participation program, a cooperative effort with the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce in grades 4-12 in the Ardmore City Schools. A pilot program with mentors for fourth grade students was just completed at Charles Evans Elementary, and is currently being expanded to all elementary sites. The MVP program will also work with Ardmore Middle School and high school on a project basis.

Volunteers set aside two hours a month to visit with their student. Dr. Bonnie J. Rigney, a member of the current Ardmore Leadership Class as well as a member of the Ardmore Lion's Club, said the experience has proven to be beneficial.

"I think it is a great program to get kids more motivated in reading, and seeing community leaders come out to read to them," she said.

Rigney was paired with a fourth-grader, and the two read a book that had been assigned. Included were vocabulary words, a short story and 10 to 12 questions with concepts about the story.

"I think with the level of reading, you don't have to be an exceptional teacher as a mentor," Rigney said. "It is about a one-on-one experience, having someone that cares about them."

Melinda Shoemate is the MVP program coordinator, responsible for the recruitment and coordination of mentors a schools. Mentors are being recruited for the remainder of the school year. Title One teachers at each site provide materials.

"The pilot phase of the program was extremely successful," said Mita Bates, president of the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce. "We had nine students and mentors meet for three weeks prior to the holiday break. The administration, Title 1 teachers and district coordinator all did an incredible job at creating material that allowed the mentors to be effective with their students. We are very excited about the possibilities when we expand to all of the elementary sites."

Representatives from the organizations taking part in the literacy effort addressed the Leadership Ardmore class, discussing their different roles in promoting literacy within the community. James Meece said the goal for the literacy initiative is to eliminate poverty by teaching reading skills, citing five recent successes.

"We are trying to educate people in a manner in which they can better themselves," Meece said.

Meece said the program is designed to instill a sense of pride and self-worth in that adults and families who achieve a level of literacy can earn a living and be proud of it rather than receive handouts.

Daniel Gibbs, director of Ardmore Public Library, said efforts are under way to fill an open slot that will coordinate classes and incorporate computers into the learning process. There will be a focus on training both the learners and tutors in curriculum.

For more information about the MVP program, contact the chamber at (580) 223-7765 or