Literacy whirlwind for some, Around the World in 80 Days for patrons

Literacy whirlwind for some, Around the World in 80 Days for patrons

by Sam Wilson
Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Staff photo by Cole Dittmer 

James “Clay” Boynton is one of the many Wilmingtonians the Cape Fear Literacy Council helped learn to read. 

It’s easy to take for granted that you can read this sentence.

But for more than 500 students tutored by volunteer teachers at the Lower Cape Fear Literacy Council each year, reading a newspaper, or electric bill, or even the names of cities on highway signs can be a daily struggle.

The literacy council will hold its annual gala fundraiser March 1, with this year’s theme based on the Jules Verne book “Around the World in 80 Days.” 

Erin Payne, community outreach and volunteer management coordinator, said the gala, now in its 29th year, is responsible for fundraising up to 25 percent of the nonprofit organization’s annual budget.

“For the past five or so years we’ve been doing it based on a based on a book — typically one that’s been turned into a movie, so it has broad appeal,” Payne said. “It’s quite an undertaking. We have over 20 live auction and over 100 silent auction items, along with casino games and dancing. Come at 6:30, leave at midnight and we’ll keep you hopping the whole time.”

The council, in addition to providing free adult literacy classes, also teaches English for roughly 200 non-native English speakers each year, and other classes including basic computer skills and test taking. But for James Boynton, who goes by the nickname Clay, the adult literacy program has been the most life changing.

Five years ago in Raleigh, after Boynton was laid off, a friend convinced him to restart his education at that city’s literacy council, where he stayed for a year before moving to Wilmington. Since arriving in the Port City, Boyton has continued his education, which ended just six months short of high school graduation. 

“A lot of kids are scared to ask for help. When I was in school, reading out [loud] was my problem because kids would pick at you, but you come here and get that one-on-one that gives you courage to read out,” Boynton said, adding he was pushed through school because he was a natural athlete. “Back then, I don’t think there was enough time. I had to go to football practice; I had to go to track practice.”

Boynton said he was surprised when instead of laughing at him when he struggled to read out loud, other students in his GED program at Cape Fear Community College were happy to help him through difficult passages. He now volunteers regularly in class, even helping the teacher explain math problems to other students.

In addition to classes at CFCC and the council’s adult literacy program, Boynton also takes advantage of computer literacy classes offered by the organization, which will help prepare him when he takes the computer-based GED exam. 

“I remember one time … my niece asking me to read to her, and I couldn’t do it,” he said. “I just kind of pushed her away.”

Now he reads to her regularly, and is finally able to read the newspaper and fully understand his bills.

“It really makes your life easier,” he said. “You can understand the world around you.”

Tickets to the Lower Cape Fear Literacy Council’s gala are $125 each. To register or get more information, visit


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