By Janee Law
Although her mom has been a volunteer for Bellport-based Literacy Suffolk for 10 years, Maria Samaritano, 17, became part of the nonprofit organization when she was in eighth grade, participating in Legs for Literacy, which is held during the annual Huntington Thanksgiving Day Charity Run.
“We raised over $200, and I thought if we can raise awareness through this, who knows how many other people we can get to reach out to raise more awareness,” Samaritano, of Huntington, said.
Now a junior ambassador for the organization, Samaritano is on a mission to recruit one student from every high school in Suffolk to become a junior ambassador, raising awareness for the literacy problem and recruiting volunteer tutors for Literacy Suffolk.
The nonprofit trains the volunteers in basic literacy and English, for speakers of other languages. Samaritano decided to start the junior ambassador program after learning that 668 individuals were on the waiting list to receive tutoring.
“It’s people who are embarrassed and maybe they never really got a chance to be well educated,” said Samaritano, who’s entering her senior year at St. Anthony’s High School. “I just want a way to help them because these are the people that actually reached out for help and Literacy Suffolk wants to help them. We just don’t have enough tutors.
“So, if I could help get tutors, then that would be amazing.”
Samaritano said the program is also receiving help from Literacy Suffolk volunteer Mary Gambacorta, who reached out to high school guidance counselors to have teachers recruit two students has possible candidates.
Samaritano said Literacy Suffolk went up to 10 junior ambassadors at the Junior Ambassador training meeting on June 22. Her goal is to get at least 20 junior ambassadors that can recruit at least one tutor so that tutor training workshops in the fall will be filled.
The next day, Samaritano held a presentation at the Huntington Senior Center, informing the crowd about the literacy problem, and what they can do to help.
“Most people don’t know that one in seven people have a literacy problem right in our own community,” Samaritano said, adding that the presentation went well and she was able to recruit her first tutor. “It’s not just the ability to read a book or write an essay, it’s the daily little things that everyone should be able to do, like read a medicine label. It’s those little things that have a big impact.”
Tutors must be 18 years or older, Samaritano said, and have to dedicate two hours per week every year at their local library.
Samaritano said that, when she turns 18, she hopes to become a tutor.
Samaritano is also an executive board member on the St. Anthony’s Leadership team, and is involved with the high school’s science research program, Clare Council and Colbie council, and campus ministry.
Samaritano also volunteers at the Long Island Cares food bank. She said her volunteer work, and working with Literacy Suffolk, has helped her interact with people and public speaking.
“I hope to raise more awareness of the problem because some people don’t even know about it,” Samaritano said. “From there, people who may be embarrassed that they can’t read and write will come out more and ask for help. Even if it’s one person, I can help change their life and we can help end illiteracy.”