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Sept. 27, 2001

New York, N.Y. – New York Giants star running back Tiki Barber is Verizon’s Literacy Champion for New York City. The company announced Barber’s role on Tuesday 9Sept. 25) at Madison Square Garden during the Learning Leaders annual kick-off event, marking the beginning of the school year.

Learning Leaders is a not-for-profit organization that recruits volunteers to work in New York City public schools.

The Literacy Champions program is part of the Verizon Reads literacy awareness campaign. Verizon partners with celebrities in communities nationwide to give literacy a familiar face, bring attention to a critical issue and raise awareness and funds for the cause of literacy.

“One of the most important things I learned from my mom was perseverance in the face of adversity,” said Tiki Barber, Verizon’s Literacy Champion and a former Academic All-American from the University of Virginia. “Many children in New York also must persevere in the face of adversity, as must our entire country following the events of the last two weeks. But with the help of organizations such as Learning Leaders and Verizon, I know public school children in New York City can gain the skills and self-esteem they need to become successful learners and productive citizens.”

According to the National Adult Literacy Survey, 92 million adults in the U.S have low or very low literacy skills. Other studies have found that more than eight of every 20 adults with low literacy live in poverty compared to only one in 20 with strong literacy skills. Taken together these facts indicate low literacy is both widespread and detrimental.

Most experts also believe the reality, pervasiveness and negative impact of low literacy is not as widely recognized as it should be. In part this is because vast numbers of the very people who have low literacy skills have learned to cope while hiding their struggles from friends and family. Shame and fear of ridicule are barriers that block people in need from seeking help. Building understanding of the issues surrounding low literacy is a central goal of Verizon’s Literacy Champion program and is a major step towards a solution, as is raising funds to support organizations that combat low literacy with education.

The award-winning Learning Leaders, formerly called the New York City School Volunteer Program, was created in 1956 and is one of the oldest programs of its kind in the country dedicated to the cause of literacy. The organization recruits, trains and supports nearly 10,000 school volunteers who provide one-on-one and small group instructional support and other services to more than 150,000 New York public school children.

“Learning Leaders knows the importance of helping a child reach his or her full potential,” said Mary Beth Bardin, executive vice president-public affairs and communications for Verizon. “In this time of uncertainty and grieving that role is more important than ever. As we rebuild our nation following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, literacy will be a vital part of building a strong America with the educated, skilled and articulate citizenry we need to extend and strengthen our legacy of freedom. Verizon is proud and excited to have Tiki Barber as our literacy champion in New York.”

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