Lending a hand for literacy

schandler@newsobserver.comJuly 14, 2013 

Augustine Executive Director Debbie McCarthy, left, accepts a donation of more than $1,200 from Tommy Buonfiglio of Chapel Hill, who raised the money – quadruple his goal – as a service project for his church confirmation class.


  • Augustine Literacy Project

    To learn more about the Augustine Literacy Project, or to donate money or volunteer to be a tutor, visit augustineproject.org or call 919-489-6339.

Tommy Buonfiglio, 13, loves reading – recently, he was making his way through the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series. So when it was time for him to find a service project for his church confirmation class last spring, he knew literacy was the cause he wanted to support.

Some online searching led him to the Augustine Literacy Project, a nonprofit that helps low-income children and teens improve their reading and writing skills through free one-on-one sessions with volunteer tutors. On ALP’s website, he found statistics about the effects of poor reading skills that he said “helped me decide I should do a fundraiser for them.”

Among those statistics:

• 15percent to 20 percent of school-aged children have reading problems.

• Children do not outgrow poor reading; 74 percent of poor readers in third grade are still poor readers in ninth.

• 85 percent of juvenile offenders have a reading difficulty.

Tommy, a rising eighth-grader at Culbreth Middle School in Chapel Hill, set a goal to raise $300 for ALP. That amount covers books and tools one tutor needs for a year.

For a month, he made announcements during services at his church, Holy Trinity Lutheran in Chapel Hill, appealing for donations. He published a plea the in church bulletin and manned a table for donations and information in the church each Sunday.

Evidently, the congregation was just as moved by the literacy statistics as Tommy was. In all, Tommy received $1,220 in donations for ALP.

“I was really surprised when I went beyond my goal, and when I went beyond my goal by this much,” he said.

There were already two or three donation drives for other causes going on at his church at the time, Tommy said, and he felt like even his initial goal was a lot of money to ask for. But the people who heard him speak gave generously anyway.

“I think it’s partially because it’s a really good cause to help, and also because I actually read them some of the sobering statistics and I think that is just really shocking,” he said. “It just shows how much of a problem illiteracy is.”

Debbie McCarthy, ALP’s executive director, said she was “thrilled to death” to hear that Tommy had quadrupled his fundraising goal.

“I was just really impressed with someone so young making that kind of effort and doing it with a lot of passion and efficiency,” McCarthy said.

Tommy’s project was a success in terms of both fundraising and imparting the lessons intended from a confirmation class project, McCarthy said.

“It grew out of that notion in the church that as you accept this responsibility to become a full-fledged member of the church, there are certain responsibilities that go along with that in terms of serving other people,” she said. “And he obviously got the message! And he followed through on it very, very well.”

Tommy’s project is over for now, but he hasn’t closed the book on his involvement with ALP.

“I plan to continue working with the literacy project,” he said. “I’ll probably do more fundraisers for the church. I might tutor myself at some point. I’m really just going to see how it goes from here.”

Know a young person who makes you proud? Tell us about it via our online form at newsobserver.com/thumbsup, by emailing thumbsup@newsobserver.com, or by calling 919-829-4828.

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