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The Mary Dunn Siedow Literacy Fund


Mary Dunn Siedow, the first Executive Director of the Durham Literacy Center (1987-1994), dedicated over thirty years of her life to advancing literacy education. In the last 20 years of her career she focused primarily on adults, working tirelessly as a teacher, trainer, author, and administrator to increase access to the quality resources and services required to support adults in developing the literacy skills and practices needed in a complex world.


The thread that connects the many projects to which Mary gave her time and energy was her desire to support all adults in being able to read well enough to accomplish their multiple goals and purposes, be it as a learner, a parent and family member, a worker, or as a citizen and member of a community.


In 1993-1994 Mary led the effort in North Carolina to involve adult learners in the process of defining our national literacy goals as part of the Equipped for the Future Initiative. Hundreds of adult learners in N.C., from Asheboro and Boone, from Durham and Fayetteville and Raleigh, shared their hopes and dreams about what being literate meant to them. [See a few excerpts below.]

It is fitting that we create a fund at Durham Literacy Center in memory of Mary Dunn Siedow (1942-2017) that recognizes the power that literacy gives to adults to achieve their own goals and purposes and take control of their own lives. The Mary Dunn Siedow Literacy Fund will supplement existing funding streams to enable the Center to continue and expand our capacity to serve all adults, especially those with basic literacy skills, enabling them to achieve their goals and enter fully into the life of our community.

To donate to the Mary Dunn Siedow Literacy Fund, please send a check to the Durham Literacy Center and write MDS Fund in the memo or donate online here and note MDS Fund in the “Special Instructions.” You can also designate your John Hope Franklin Society membership to the MDS Fund. For more information about the John Hope Franklin Giving Society, go to or contact Lizzie Ellis-Furlong at (919) 489-8383 ext 22 or  

To donate to the MDS Literacy Fund, please: 

  • Send a check to the Durham Literacy Center with MDS Fund in the memo (PO Box 52209, Durham, NC 27717); 

  • Donate online here and note MDS Fund in the "Special Instructions"; or 

Adult learner responses to the question: "What does it mean to be literate?," excerpted from Equipped for the Future: A customer-driven vision for adult literacy and lifelong learning (Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy, 1995):


From my point of view literacy means freedom. Being a literate person gives me the freedom to learn many things that I might never have known if I were illiterate. Being literate also allows me to express my thoughts and innermost feelings without having to speak a word or tell a soul.

Literacy for me means having the power to make your own decisions for yourself.


The first time I really knew I needed help was after I had my kids and I got a divorce. That left me with all the bills and running the house. I was left with collection, people calling me and writing me letters. I couldn’t read the bills and didn’t know who they were from.


I couldn’t read very well six years ago. As a production worker I could see many changes being made and knew that I would have to learn to read better in order to continue working at my job. Computers were becoming a way of life and I wanted to be able to work on the computers and move with the new technology.

One of my desires was to read the Bible more fluently and understand what I was reading.


A person can know how to read and still be illiterate if he or she does not comprehend the reading material. When you can read and totally comprehend what you have read, then apply that knowledge to every day life, then, and only then, may you consider yourself literate.

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