There's one end of Montague Avenue where businesses are thriving and the Olde Village feel is being restored, thanks to a rebirth and newfound pride for an area making a comeback.

Another area of Montague, known as Liberty Hill, is undertaking a building plan even more important. Liberty Hill is generally regarded as the oldest African-American community in North Charleston. The sign upon entering this half-mile stretch of Montague cites the community birth date as 1871. Its earliest inhabitants were pre-Emancipation Freedmen and former slaves.

So what major foundation is being laid right now in Liberty Hill? A group of neighborhood adults is teaching children to become better readers. Readin', writin' and 'rithmetic are all important components to becoming better students. But if you can't do the first one well, the other two are even more challenging.

The group is known as LHIC, the Liberty Hill Improvement Council. The goal is to assist children in reading on their grade level or above. It's an after-school literacy program designed to bridge the gap between teachers and their parents.

How's it work?

Hursey Elementary is barely a mile from Liberty Hill. Four days a week, students who want and need extra work on their reading are taken to the National Guard Armory. From 3-6 p.m., they work with volunteers reading books and then answering questions about what they just read. Who was the main character? Where did the story take place? What is the plot? The program is designed to make sure the child can retain and understand what is read.

Here's what I saw on a recent Thursday afternoon: In one room, there were 15 children and 12 volunteers. Almost every child this day was given one-on-one attention. The students were second- through fifth-graders. The volunteers were a combination of retired folks looking to help, some still-active educators and even a few high schoolers.

Patricia Griggs, a former teacher who grew up in Liberty Hill, is lending a hand because, “It's a way you can make a difference.” Ellison Brown, a senior at Academic Magnet, was looking for something to do after school. She tried it the first time and kept coming back because she became excited by the students' progress. “If I don't show up, they want to know where I was,” she said.

The president of LHIC is Robert Fludd. The first year of the program, 22 kids signed up. This year, they have 40. In a separate room, the program also works with children ages 4 years to the first grade. Fludd's eyes really light up when he explains that they have kindergarten students who now read. “If you catch 'em early, put 'em on track — they're eager.”

I watched 4- and 5-year-old boys and girls raise their hands and confidently yell “C” or “H” when identifying flash cards. Something special is happening here in Liberty Hill.

Easy as A-B-C

In a few days, the program will leave the armory and take up residence in the newly renovated Felix Pinckney Community Center. This has been a landmark for activities in the city's park and recreation department for decades. It's good of the city for making this facility available to the program. The new center includes a library and computer center.

As I was about to leave, a little girl stopped me. Nine-year-old Victoria Coleman wanted to show me her report card. When she started, she made a 78 in reading. Her last report showed a 95. “Look at that,” she said with a finger snap.

Yes, there are some serious building blocks being laid there. It's clear that we'll all be better for it.

Reach Warren at 937-5577 or