Summit County Rotary Club recognized nationally for fundraising efforts for Guatemala Literacy Project |

Summit County Rotary Club recognized nationally for fundraising efforts for Guatemala Literacy Project

Every year Rotary Club of Summit County sends a group of Coloradans to Guatemala. The group spends time in small towns with young students, whose families struggle to afford to keep them in school. Children often drop out in order to work in the fields and help support their family.

"They wanted to show us their classrooms, they wanted to show us what they'd learned," said Tanya Shattuck.

Shattuck joined the group to Guatemala for the first time this past February. The trip was a Christmas present from her mother. Shattuck said that spending time in the schools was both a heartwarming and eye-opening experience.

The group spent seven days in the country. Shattuck said that most of the days were spent on the bus traveling to different schools, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The people in the towns that they visit are descended from the Mayan tribes, speaking their native language as well as Spanish.

Shattuck also said they visited some students' homes. Many of the families can only afford to live in one-bedroom houses with everyone crowded into one room with a handful of furniture.

"It was very impactful to realize that education is difficult for these people," said Larry Bass, a Rotarian from southeast Denver. "Guatemala I think has the highest illiteracy rate in Central America, and you see it up close and personal when you go to something like the home visits."

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Bass has participated in the last two trips to Guatemala and came to speak about it at the Summit Rotary meeting on Tuesday morning.

The Guatemala Literacy Project aims to improve reading skills in these impoverished schools by providing materials. The Rotary Club of Summit County sponsors the program, which helps fund textbooks and computer centers for students. It is a partnership of both the North American and Guatemalan Rotary clubs, as well as Cooperative for Education, a nonprofit organization. By the end of 2016 the program helped 4,280 students across 34 schools in the Culture of Reading Program.

The project was recognized in the May 2017 edition of Rotarian magazine in "Global Grants: Success by Design." The article recognized 20 grants that "exemplify what a project should be." Mary Anne Johnston, the chair of the literacy committee for the club, said that the Summit Rotary has been participating in the project for the last six years. The magazine article highlighted that in 2013, the program raised nearly $340,000 for Guatemalan students. It is the largest grant listed in the article, and is the only one supporting education. Johnston said that $10,000 was donated that year by Rotary members from Summit County. Local donations are matched with regional and Rotary International funds. All donated funds go directly to the program.

In 2016 the Rotary Club of Summit County raised $5,000. After matching, that number was boosted to $17,500.

In addition to the literacy project, people can sponsor a student by helping to pay a monthly donation that goes to their education. The monthly fee helps to cover tuition and uniforms as well as career guidance and classes on building a resume.

"Unlike us, they don't have somebody at home who talks to them about the kind of job they have, or suggests that they could go to a trade school or go to college or anything like that," said Aloah Kincaid, a Rotarian from southeast Denver who came to speak at the meeting.

Johnston recently had a student she sponsored graduate from high school. She now has a new student that she will begin sponsoring this year.

"The students are really very, very special," she said.

Fellow Summit Rotarian Stephanie Katz's sponsored student also graduated, and was at the top of her class. Katz added that her student was given a full ride to college.

"She's now in college studying to become a teacher and I couldn't be more proud of her," Katz said. "I actually got to meet her mother and father and it was a lesson in what education can do for a child."