Blanton, a Holly Springs resident and Georgia native, spent several years teaching a General Education Development test class in New Mexico that inspired his cause.
“I taught ex-gang members and teenage moms,” said Blanton, 38. “Most of my students were so dedicated and their graduation ceremonies were just so incredible. I wanted to create something like that here without relying on government funds.”
He realized that there was no similar free, secular program in Cherokee for illiterate adults when he returned to the area a few years ago. Most programs throughout the county are prohibitive for his target audience, Blanton said.
“Even $100 for a course might as well be $1 million for some of these people,” he said.
With his wife, Ariane Blanton, 34, Jay Blanton has scoured library book sales and thrift stores for reduced-price books to resell on the Internet for profit. The two are also hoping for charitable book donations as well.
“I love the idea of trying to do something for the community,” Ariane Blanton said, noting that she works more on the business side of things by pricing and processing the books.
Though it has been a slow start, Jay Blanton said his idea, dubbed “The Poor Professor Literacy Project,” is in the process of becoming a registered 501(c)3 non-profit, offering free GED and adult literacy courses whenever and wherever people may need them.
“Our goal is to help adults who somehow slipped through the school systems and are trying to function in society without the ability to read,” he said.
Jay Blanton noted that illiterate people often try very hard to keep their inability to read a secret, adding that his wife, a restaurant server, has encountered many patrons who are unable to read the menu.
“We believe that a large part of what keeps them from seeking help is the stigma that goes with illiteracy in society,” he said. “The Poor Professor Literacy Project wants to provide these individuals with free, one-on-one instruction in a safe and comfortable environment.”
That environment can be determined by the student — a coffee shop, a library or even the student’s home. Jay Blanton hopes to eventually be able to rent space at the YMCA or Boys & Girl’s Club for this purpose.
“We also want to make the schedule as flexible as possible and oriented around the students’ needs since many of these individuals work more than one minimum wage job to survive,” he said.
Jay Blanton began his career as a teacher in 2003 at Northview High School in Fulton County, but began searching for a more flexible career option in 2006 due to health issues.
“Still, (my health) is not the driving force or the passion behind the dream we are working towards,” he said. “I wanted to find a way that I could still teach, make a difference in people’s lives and be a contributing member of society.”
As far as donations from the community, Jay Blanton hopes people will contribute new or gently used books for the bookstore or for future use as reference materials for students. However, donations will not be tax-deductable until the project is deemed a 501c3 non-profit.
“The customers for these books are out there, all over the U.S. and even the world, we just need more inventory,” he said.
He also encourages people to visit his online collection at www.poorprofessorbooks.com, where he has all types of books available for purchase via www.amazon.com.
“We’re usually not the lowest price,” Jay Blanton said, but noted that he takes pride in providing excellent service through quick delivery and quality packaging — something that he also appreciates as a book lover.
“Whenever someone buys a books, I feel like they’re adopting it,” Ariane Blanton joked.
Jay Blanton also welcomes monetary assistance for various materials he hopes to purchase, including bookshelves and reference materials. He said interested donors may visit his website to find out how to make a contribution.
“It’s important to me that the project be funded by those who choose to give rather than through government funding,” he said.
He also hopes to be able to offer at least one adult literacy class sometime this spring.
“At least it would be a start,” he said.