Readers gather in park to aid literacy campaign

Mayor Barney Arceneaux turned a page of “The Duck Commander Family” as Parish President Tommy Martinez read a John Grisham thriller.

The two elected officials were among more than 50 residents who gathered Monday under the shade trees in Veterans Memorial Park for the Ascension Parish Library’s Take Time to Read program.

Librarian Angelle Deshautelles said the program is part of the Turn the Page: Improving Literacy Campaign, a program that promotes reading and stresses the importance of literacy.

Each Monday in October, Deshautelles said, residents are invited to bring a book and a brown bag lunch to the park for 15 minutes of reading.

The reading sessions are held at noon in the park on Irma Boulevard next to the library’s Gonzales branch.

Studies indicate, she said, that reading for 15 minutes a day improves literacy skills, and can equal reading 20 books a year.

Arceneaux, Martinez and others selected one of more than two dozen books donated to the library for the program.

Adult Services Librarian Chriselle Henry said readers can pick up the free books and “pass it on to someone else and do your part to promote reading.”

Henry challenged those attending to make literacy a priority in their lives.

Martinez said 14 percent, or 32 million, of all Americans can’t read or write.

“I was startled by that statistic,” he said.

People who can’t read or write, Martinez said, have difficulty filling out job applications.

Sixty-one percent of prisoners can’t read or write, he added.

Arceneaux said reading promotes the mind and a zest for life.

“Lose yourself in the words of other so you can grow,” Arceneaux said.

Superintendent of Schools Patrice Pujol, a former English teacher and 37-year educator, said she spent her life promoting literacy.

Literacy is more important in today’s economy than ever before, she said, noting that work manuals and job training tools in many jobs require high literacy levels.

Whether reading on a digital tablet, an e-reader or a traditional book, “literacy leads to a high quality of life,” Pujol said.

Students with the Carville Job Corps program also attended the kick-off event. After the 15-minute reading session, the Jambalaya Festival Association served lunch.

The campaign, which is taking place in the greater New Orleans area and surrounding parishes, is supported by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, Xavier University, New Orleans Public Library and other partners, Deshautelles said.

The campaign will continue through 2014.

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