Leonardo Rosales reads with volunteer Margaret Johnson at the Boys & Girls Club of Bluffton. AMY COYNE BREDESON

A few years ago, Jack Zahn hated reading. But thanks to a literacy intervention program at the Boys & Girls Club of Bluffton – and a lot of perseverance on his part – the 9-year-old Bluffton boy has developed a love of books.

Jack started attending the afterschool reading program when he was in first grade. At that point, he was reading on a pre-K level. Now a third-grader, Jack is reading on his grade level, but more importantly, he’s having fun doing it.

“They made me feel that reading is great,” Jack said. “I like it now.”

The comprehensive reading program gives club members a chance to practice their reading skills in a small environment with the help of caring staff members, volunteers and interns. They are able to read by themselves, out loud or have someone read to them.

The program mostly serves first- through third-graders, but literacy program director Linda Ferguson hopes to soon be able to help students through 12th grade with their reading skills.

To be able to do that, the club needs more space. So, the organization, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, launched a capital campaign in August 2017 to add a new literacy center. The club needed to raise $585,106.

The club’s director of resource development, Katie Danbury, said the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry offered to donate the final $75,000 toward the project if the remaining amount is raised by April 15.

As of Jan. 25, the club had raised 81 percent of its goal, Danbury said. She said the new 2,606-square-foot Literacy Center of Excellence will allow the reading program to serve twice as many members per year. The center will feature 24 computers, custom furnishings, a counseling office, and a large projection screen for video reinforcement.

“This will also allow us to restructure our parking lot to make it much safer, with one way in and a separate way out, as well as allow us to expand our STEM program by expanding into our current reading room,” Danbury said.

In addition to improving kids’ reading skills, the club’s literacy program reinforces positive character traits.

“We want to instill in children while they are young the fact that they need to have good character, to have good manners in order to grow up and be a well-rounded citizen,” Ferguson said. “It starts young, building those characteristics, and getting them to understand them.”

Members are praised when they’re observed demonstrating certain positive characteristics. For example, Jack, the boy who once hated reading, earned an award for demonstrating perseverance.

Once the new center is built, Ferguson wants to host events where parents can visit the club and read to their children.

Ferguson said South Carolina ranks 13th in the United States for illiteracy. She knows of some students in middle and high school who are still reading at a third-grade level. She doesn’t want any of them to slip through the cracks, and that’s why she is so passionate about the literacy program at the Boys & Girls Club.

“You can’t do anything in this world unless you are able to read,” Ferguson said. “Reading keeps kids out of jail and keeps them from dropping out of school. So, I feel if we catch them early and provide them with the reading skills that are necessary for them to survive when they graduate high school, that they’ll be successful.”

For more information or to make a donation to the campaign, visit crowd rise.com/bgcliteracy.

Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.