KINGMAN - When Christine Meisenheimer moved here three years ago from southwest Michigan, she couldn't believe there wasn't a literacy program in the city.
Meisenheimer, 63, had been involved in a literacy program in Michigan for 10 years, teaching a variety of students to read, from some with traumatic brain injuries to others who didn't connect well in school and dropped out.
To Meisenheimer, a long-time activist, the need for a good literacy program in most U.S. cities is a no-brainer
And when she heard that Kingman's functional illiteracy rate is about 60 percent, she was aghast. A functionally illiterate person cannot read or follow complex directions, fill out a job application or manage daily living and employment tasks that require reading and writing skills beyond a basic level.
"I was appalled and it started me on a war path here," said Meisenheimer. "I rattled cages and stomped my feet and snorted to get a literacy program started in Kingman.
"I've been a human rights activist all my life, and I know that the single most important factor in reducing the poverty level is learning to read."
So Meisenheimer joined the Workplace, Education and Literacy Coalition of Mohave County, an umbrella agency promoting literacy. Lake Havasu City and Bullhead City had literacy programs, but Kingman's had disintegrated.
Meisenheimer approached the agency and asked for enough funding to start the ball rolling in Kingman again. She got it, and ordered material and recruited two coordinators.
Both resigned before they started, leaving Meisenheimer to train 13 volunteer tutors.
The program, called Kingman Area Literacy Program (KALP) got its first student a little more than a month ago - a third-grader who is mildly autistic and needs extra help with his reading. Also, a resident from India is recruiting his friends who want to learn English.
The free program, housed in the Kingman Public Library, offers reading and other academic, GED and English as a Second Language study for children and adults. Participants receive an evaluation of their proficiency level before starting their sessions.
The program can accommodate about 20 students, with tutors assigned to one or two participants. Applications can be picked up at the library's circulation desk.
"Literacy is important to Kingman," said Meisenheimer. "Why would big industries come here if the population is illiterate? They need employees who can read directions and understand them. Why invest $2 million or more in a place where people can't read? An illiterate community is nothing but a liability for a company, and we need to change that in Kingman so we can attract business here."