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St. Charles youth prison needs tutors
By Josh Stockinger | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 10/13/2009 12:35 PM

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Organizers of a literacy program at the Illinois Youth Center in St. Charles are looking for volunteers to tutor young prisoners.

Currently, about 20 people are needed to spend at least an hour a week tutoring and mentoring male inmates, according to the nonprofit Literacy Volunteers of Illinois.

Dorothy Miaso, executive director of the literacy group, said the need is much greater at the St. Charles facility on Route 38 than it is at other juvenile prisons.

At the Illinois Youth Center for girls in Warrenville, which has a population less than one-fourth the size of the St. Charles facility, Miaso said there's "an excess of interested volunteers and (we) are having to turn people away.

"It is bittersweet that volunteers assist many juvenile learners, but find difficulties tutoring all who need help," she said, attributing the problem to daytime scheduling conflicts with volunteers.

The Illinois Youth Center in St. Charles is the state's largest juvenile detention center, with an all-male population of 318. The average age of an inmate at the medium-security facility is 16, according to its Web site.

Theo Stripling, a spokesman for Literacy Volunteers Illinois, said tutors are asked to pledge a minimum of one hour a week and must possess basic math and reading skills.

Volunteers undergo a general interview and background check before they are matched with a student from the school on campus. Tutoring usually takes place in the library or in a classroom.

Stripling said the program is popular among retired teachers and college students but does not require experience in any particular field. The key, he said, is consistency.

"We find tutoring to be most effective when someone has the same tutor for a length of times - it helps both ends, making it easier for the volunteer and also the student," Stripling said. "The help these students need, a lot of it is basic English, basic math. Some of these students are falling around sixth-grade level if not below."

Tutoring takes place during school hours, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. For more information, call (312) 857-1582 or visit lvillinois.org.