Little things, such as misspelling a word on a truck’s GPS system, used to freak out Haven Edmunds.

A teenager old enough to have a driver’s license, Edmunds could barely read or write.

He was afraid that if he typed a street name in wrong and got lost, he would not be able to find his way home.

And it went deeper than that.

“I thought I couldn’t do anything,” Edmunds said. “I thought I was too stupid to do anything.”

He was wrong.

But to believe in himself, he first had to connect with others who believed in him.

He found them in a windowless office space on the backside of a Hendersonville strip mall. A group of women who, for the past several years, have spent hours by his side to help him learn to sound out the word “immeasurable” or define the word “languor.”

They sit together — volunteers and student — in the workbook-filled room occupied by the Literacy Council of Middle Tennessee and bend their heads over bolded vocabulary words. With each sentence read allowed, they advance Edmunds’ reading comprehension, even if ever so slightly.


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Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in a series of United Way of Bay County Partner Agency profiles:

BAY CITY, MI — The United Way of Bay County’s annual fundraising campaign is under way and in conjunction, The Bay City Times is taking the opportunity to profile the United Way’s 20 partner agencies.

United Way officials aim to raise $1.02 million through this year’s campaign and plan to make an allocation of pledged funds on April 1.

Last year’s campaign netted about $1 million, $644,000 of which was disbursed to partner agencies in Bay County to help fund specific programs.

To donate, call the United Way of Bay County at 989-893-7508, drop by United Way headquarters at 909 Washington Ave. or visit

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Elmo and his “Sesame Street” buddies could soon be having two-way conversations of sorts with children.

Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit producer of “Sesame Street,” and the children’s speech recognition company ToyTalk plan to announce Monday that they have signed a two-year research partnership agreement to explore how to use conversational technology to teach preschool literacy.

The agreement formalizes work the two have been undertaking for more than a year. Sesame Workshop has been testing prototype mobile apps that use ToyTalk’s proprietary PullString technology, a combination of speech recognition meant to understand children’s speech patterns, artificial intelligence and prewritten scripts responding to what a child has said.

The first products resulting from the partnership could be available early next year, said Miles Ludwig, managing director of Sesame Workshop’s Content Innovation Lab. Products that more formally teach children to read will take longer, however. When it comes to technology that tells children whether they pronounced a written word correctly — as opposed to, for example, asking them to come up with a word that rhymes with “cat” or discuss their feelings — “We need the accuracy to be very high,” Mr. Ludwig said.

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