A New Brand To Mark A New Era

A little over three years ago, the Literacy Kansas City staff and board underwent a comprehensive strategic planning process that resulted in two major goals: first, to become a more efficient and effective provider of adult literacy services; and second, to leverage community connections to better meet the need. In many ways, our immense progress toward the realization of these goals has resulted in a reinvention, and a more than doubling of size, of our organization. From our classroom-based program service delivery model and community partner collaborative focus, to a dedication to research- and evidence-based programs, and a diversification of services that offers comprehensive, student-centered approaches and outcomes, Literacy Kansas City has certainly come a long way.

Thirty years ago, Literacy Kansas City began as a dream and grew out of a passion to help people. A small group of volunteers perceived a need and created a tiny organization to provide literacy tutoring for adults. Operating from the basement of the Country Club Congregational Church at 64th and Brookside Boulevard, the program was operated with an all-volunteer staff until, a decade later, its first Executive Director was hired. Since then, Literacy Kansas City has remained dedicated to its mission of advancing literacy in our community through direct services, advocacy, and collaboration, and will forever owe a debt of gratitude to its founding members.

As we look ahead to the future of Literacy KC, we have again undergone a strategic planning process.  After many hours of organizational soul-searching, we have determined a common purpose and visionary goal: to become a premiere literacy service provider throughout our region, a model for adult literacy programs, and a leader in adult literacy education. And we are already well on our way.

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Executive Director Gillian Helm working hard with the Spelling Bee on preparing Literacy Kansas City’s new brand!

To commemorate the innovations in 21st century adult literacy curriculum; to acknowledge the progress toward creating a welcoming community for students, staff, and supporters; to acknowledge that literacy goes far beyond words; and to herald in a new era for Literacy KC, we will be launching a new brand at this year’s Spelling Bee. Our refreshed look and logo will help us to better convey the excitement, relevance, opportunity, and potential that we already know we have, and that a new brand will more fully showcase. Please join us on Thursday, April 28, at UMKC’s Pierson Auditorium to commemorate our 30th year of service to our community, to pay tribute to those who came before us, to celebrate the achievements yet to come, and to be one of the first to see the new and improved identity of Literacy Kansas City.

On Friday, April 29, our new signs to the brilliant future of adult literacy will be shown in full color here!

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Literacy Kansas City Chosen as Digital Inclusion Fellow City Host For A Second Straight Year

 

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Great news! Literacy Kansas City has been selected for the second straight year as a City Host for The Nonprofit Technology Network’s (NTEN) Digital Inclusion Fellowship!

Last year, NTEN announced its first ever Digital Inclusion Fellowship (DIF), in partnership with Google Fiber, which Literacy Kansas City was also chosen for. In an effort to increase digital literacy and broadband adoption in digitally divided communities, NTEN placed 16 Fellows in locally-based organizations in 8 cities across the country.

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Literacy Kansas City is proud to be one of the few organizations in the country to be selected to host a Digital Inclusion Fellowship! (Photo Source: Google Fiber)

This year, Kansas City is one of the now eleven cities to host a Fellow. Literacy Kansas City is honored to be chosen to host one of the 22 total Fellows in the country and excited to continue to develop our digital literacy program!

“NTEN’s Digital Inclusion Fellowship is a tremendous opportunity not only for our organization, but our local community as well,” said Gillian Helm, Executive Director. “We’re committed to helping improve adult digital literacy across the Kansas City area and look forward to welcoming our future Fellow this summer.”

“At NTEN, we see the impact that having a digitally engaged community can have on social impact work and want to be sure that every nonprofit and community based organization understands how to be part of the digital world and bring their communities along with them,” said Amy Sample Ward, CEO of NTEN.

You can apply today to be Literacy Kansas City’s Fellow! Applications are now open and interviews may be scheduled on a rolling basis during the application period. Fellow selection may happen before the application’s close date, which is May 13th, so we encourage you to apply today! You can learn more about the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, the available Fellow positions, and how to apply here.

In addition to adult literacy organizations (7 Fellows) like Literacy Kansas City, fellows will also be hosted by libraries (7 Fellows), organizations that provide affordable housing (3 Fellows), and other organizations that specialize in digital inclusion (5 Fellows). All chosen fellows will attend a week long orientation program where they’ll be trained on digital literacy best practices and work to develop leadership skills.

“As the lead sponsor, Google Fiber will again contribute more than $1 million to help administer the fellowship. Our current fellows have reached thousands of people lacking internet access, trained hundreds of volunteers, and received positive feedback from community members. And with the help of NTEN, we hope to continue our progress” said Andrew Bentley, Digital Inclusion Program Manager, Google Fiber.

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One of our digital literacy class students working to improve his typing skills in Literacy Kansas City’s computer lab.

Throughout the past year, our current Digital Inclusion Fellow, Sarah Bell, has worked with students to incorporate digital activities into Literacy Kansas City’s classes. Our digital literacy program focuses on helping our students feel more comfortable using computers and associated digital resources in order to enhance their literacy skills.

“In the 21st century, it is impossible to talk about literacy without mentioning the digital component. Many of the discussions about bridging the digital divide focuses on alleviating barriers, helping those individuals who cannot afford the Internet or a device or who do not have the necessary digital skills to navigate. But what about those individuals who also have low literacy as a barrier? For them, technology can be one more thing that has a lot of words and letters that they don’t have the skills to read, or the confidence to navigate. However, technology can also be a useful tool, and that’s what we are teaching our students here. I believe as we help students break down both sets of barriers, reading/writing and digital, we will see their confidence rise in all areas of literacy” said Sarah Bell, Literacy Kansas City Instructor & Digital Inclusion Fellow.

 

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Filed under Announcement, digital literacy, In The News, Programs & Services, Uncategorized

Spotlight on Our Upcoming Bee’s Power Spelling Teams

Cold sweats, dry mouth, memory loss, trembling fingers, difficulty breathing — these are not only possible side effects to some drugs, but also the sensations people often feel before public speaking. Is it any wonder it’s rated the number one fear in life?

Throw in spelling aloud random and challenging words while standing in front of a large group and you might experience a near-trauma!

On Thursday, April 28, at UMKC, 36 people will bravely face and overcome these fears to compete in Literacy KC’s 22nd Annual Spelling Bee and 30th Bee-Day Celebration. Eleven teams, furiously practicing now even as you read this post, are being sponsored by leading organizations that believe in the high value of adult literacy to the community and their own efforts.

Here is what these power spellers say about the importance of adult literacy:

MCPL Spelling Bee PracticeRebecca Maddox, Mid-Continent Public Library

“Our mission is to enrich our citizens and communities through expanding access to innovation, information, ideas, and inspiration. Promoting adult literacy and helping citizens across Clay, Jackson, and Platte Counties find the tools they need to be successful are crucial components of achieving this mission and are vital to the development and betterment of the community. That is why we are excited to partner with Kansas City Public Library and Literacy KC to offer the groundbreaking new program, Career Online High School. Now, qualified, selected adults have the opportunity to earn a fully-accredited high school diploma and gain assistance with navigating a variety of potential career paths – all for free. MCPL also offers a myriad of other free programs and services that support adult literacy, from online resources such as the Adult Education Center from Tutor.com to book discussion groups to community-wide reading initiatives like The Big Read. Our library is proud to offer assistance to aspiring entrepreneurs through Square One Small Business Services and training for those looking to hone their writing skills and share their stories through The Story Center.”

Ingrid Larson, Children’s Mercy Hospital

“Our medical professionals try to help families cope with the daily challenges of parenting children with complex medical needs. That challenge is even greater when parents must face the added obstacle of illiteracy. Parents with reduced literacy struggle with scheduling and keeping appointments and understanding details about their child’s medication regimen and diagnoses, which are often communicated in writing. Organizations like Literacy KC do great work in giving parents and other adults the tools they need to be able to give their children the best care.”

unnamed (1).jpg   Alan McDermott, Andrews McMeel Universal

“Andrews McMeel Universal supplies comics, puzzles and lifestyle features to newspapers; gift and humor books, comic collections and calendars to bookstores and other retail outlets; and supports dozens of aspiring comic artists on our websites. We can’t do any of this without literate consumers to read and enjoy (and buy!) our products. Readers are our lifeblood, and we are delighted to support the efforts of Literacy KC.”

Paul Rosenboom, Midland Loan Services

“We support Literacy Kansas City because every day the organization changes not only the lives of its students, but the families and communities within which they live. Adult students may be able to read a bedtime story to their children, better navigate financial responsibilities, utilize new technology, obtain their GED, go back to school, or change their career path. Students are advanced socially and economically by their new skills and Kansas City as a whole benefits.”

 

Google Fiber Spelling Bee Team Photo.jpgRachel Merlo, Google Fiber

“Being successful online is impossible without the fundamentals of adult literacy. We’re proud of our partnership with Literacy Kansas City and support their efforts to improve access to literacy – both traditional and digital – for our community.”

 

The other Spelling Team sponsors include: The TEAM CHEER WINNER for the last TWO years, Euronet Worldwide; Black & Veatch; Kansas City Public Library/Boulevard Brewery; Multi Service; and our longest standing team celebrating its 20th year of competition, Rotary Club 13. Literacy KC’s own team of tutors and volunteers will also face the Bee’s extreme spelling challenge, all in recognition of 30 years of service toward Literacy for All.

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Student Rochelle Todd: Building On Confidence

By Will Orlowski, Ticket to Read Program Coordinator/AmeriCorps VISTA

When I asked Rochelle Todd if I could interview her for this piece, I did not expect her to say yes. Not because Rochelle is a difficult person, or because she would be too shy to tell her story; I was pessimistic because Rochelle is one of the hardest working people I know. She had just finished class (every Monday and Wednesday, 9:00-10:30 AM) and was hurrying off to get to work as she always does. But the moment I asked her for her help, before even explaining what I needed from her, she said she would make time for me.

“I can give you ten minutes,” she said with a smile.

Rochelle Todd & Tutor Ann Ziesman.

As I was to find out, this is typical of Rochelle. Born and raised in Kansas City, she has worked hard for years to help others. She has three daughters, two of whom are in high school, and a four-year-old grandson. Sitting down with me in my office, I asked her what she did in her time outside of work and school.

 “Mom stuff. I’ve got my daughters that are still in school and I just do the best I can to be a good mom. I go to the gym sometimes, but most of the time I’m working to learn more or to support my family.” She said this while fidgeting with the hem on her scrubs; Rochelle works in childcare at the Learning Curve, an organization that specializes in early-learning for Pre-K children in the KC Metro area. Clearly this was a woman who had priorities higher than herself, and knew what she was working to achieve. I asked her how she was able to do so much.

“I try to stay consistent. It’s about not letting anyone get in your way. That’s what I’ve learned here: have faith, you can do it.”

Having brought up her time at Literacy KC, I asked her to further explain what her experience as a student has been.

“Well, I’ve been here off and on since it was just me and a tutor. I’ve been here two straight terms now; I love my tutors, especially now since we have groups. I like that.”

Despite her tact and humility, I could tell that she was proud of what she had accomplished so far. Spending the time I do in all of our classes, it is not hard to see why. Despite the hectic nature of her schedule, Rochelle almost never misses class. Every one of her tutors had nothing but good things to say regarding both her personality and her work ethic, and when I informed her instructor (Julia Wendt) that I would be writing about Rochelle, she was ecstatic.

 In fact, Rochelle is so well regarded by the staff at LKC that when applications began to circulate for the new Student Advisory Committee, we jumped at the chance to recommend her. Once again, despite her already-full plate, Rochelle was eager to participate.

“It’s important to me that I have a voice,” Rochelle said when I asked her about the committee’s first meeting. “It’s really good to see that because it lets me know I’m improving. Things are opening up for me — usually I’m like a box, all closed off. But as I’ve grown I’ve come out of my shell. I feel like I can’t be ashamed anymore, and I’m not the only one. As long as you’re getting help that’s all that matters.”

“And how did the meeting go?” I asked.

“It went fine. We talked about a lot of things, and we’ll ask the classes for two goals to talk about with the committee.”

“I’m curious what some of your goals are for the committee? What are some things that you want to see them doing?”

“We want people to come out and get help,” she said. “We want people to not feel so bad that they can’t read or write. And just being able to talk to people, the younger generation that’s struggling and doesn’t know how to get help.”

I was desperately interested to hear more regarding the Student Advisory Committee (or “Together We Stand,” as they’ve named themselves), but having covered her past and present I felt I needed to learn more about her future, and I knew I did not have much more time before she had to leave for work.

“So Rochelle, I know we only have a few more minutes. What is it that you ultimately want to achieve?”

“I want to be able to read more, and to write,” she said. “I want to advance. I’m trying to get my education while I can, it’s definitely my priority right now. And I want to work in education. Maybe a school setting, like preschool or early childhood.”

Just like that, my ten minutes were up. I wanted to talk about so much more, to learn from this person who knew what she wanted, understood who she is, and was dedicated to accomplishing her goals no matter the effort required. But I was out of time, and so with one last question as she packed up her books and bag, I asked her what one thing she would say to a potential student, if given the chance.

“I would say come. It’s a good environment. If I was someplace else, I might not ever have gotten what I needed. It’s homey, it’s comfortable.”

With that, Rochelle went to work.

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Filed under AmeriCorps VISTA, For Students, For Tutors, Programs & Services, Student Spotlight, Uncategorized

Adult Literacy In Today’s Society

On January 12, 1971, Jimmy Carter was sworn in as Governor of Georgia.  He said in his inaugural address: “Our people are our most precious possession. . .Every adult illiterate. . .is an indictment of us all…  the responsibility is our own and our government’s. . .I will not shirk this responsibility.”  Forty-five years later, his noble goal is still being address in every state in the nation.

A quick internet review of materials that discuss adult literacy will show consistent disagreement on how to define the operative terms.   But most writers agree on one practical definition:  A “functionally illiterate” adult is unable to read well enough to deal with everyday requirements of life.  And the inability to read and do math at a fifth-grade level is a well-accepted ballpark definition of functional illiteracy.

In 2009, The U.S. Department of Education did a national assessment, using statistics collected in 2003. It found that some 30 million American adults (about 14%) were functionally illiterate.  And before you make assumptions about the demographics:  75% were born in the United States, 2/3 were under 65; more than 3/4 could see well, and 90% had not been diagnosed with a learning disability.  In December 2014, another study from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy was reported, and it made clear that not much had changed.  The national adult illiteracy rate was still around 14%.

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The U.S. Department of Education findings as of 2014.

Such significant numbers obviously result in an adverse practical effect on the economic, medical, and emotional health of any nation.  People can observe and understand the direct and indirect prices of illiteracy.  What happens to health care if a mother cannot read the antidote instructions on a can of drain cleaner accidentally tasted by her toddler?  What effect is there on the right to vote when the voting instructions require the ability to read well?  What is the result of efforts for full and fair employment when most jobs require not only the ability to read, but also the computer skills to apply online?  What happens when parents cannot provide the educational support needed to be sure their children don’t start behind and stay behind?

Yes, functional illiteracy is something that is present in our world today.   Community resources like Literacy Kansas City and its volunteers, adult programs from public libraries, outreach efforts of local colleges and universities, help from businesses and industries who understand the need for a literate workforce, support from organizations and foundations, and the active participation of individuals who recognize that a literate community is a better community all work to improve literacy rates.   There are many ways to help adults work to their maximum literary potential in your own community.  Students come to Literacy Kansas City with so many special gifts and talents already in their skill set: it then becomes Literacy Kansas City’s goal to take those gifts and talents and use them to develop stronger literacy skills. Take a look at the topics listed on this website, and see how you can get involved!

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Filed under For Tutors, For Volunteers, In The News, Uncategorized, Understanding the Need

Program Overview: Let’s Read

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Our newest instructor, Mary Weir, teaching at a Let’s Read Class.

How can we help children in Kansas City be successful readers? It’s a loaded question. Some say early literacy intervention and kindergarten readiness are the most important factors to help our students. Others suggest that we need to look at larger issues, like poverty, high mobility rates of students in the school district, or changing instructional methods in order to teach our students more effectively. The truth is, all of these opinions are extremely important factors to consider when addressing this issue. Here at Literacy KC, we address a factor that is often left out of the conversation: parent involvement.

In a 2014 study, researchers from the University of North Carolina determined that the most important influence on reading performance was the size of the home library, followed by the parent’s occupational status and the parent’s educational background (Evans, Kelley, Sikora, 2014). Our two big takeaways from this study were to get high quality literature into the hands of Kansas City kids and to inspire parents to get more involved in their child’s education. Thus, Let’s Read was born.

Let’s Read is a new kind of Family Reading Program. Through culturally-rich and award winning literature, we teach parents reading strategies and interventions that they can do with their kids at home. Let’s Read meets weekly for one hour, and is led by an instructor and a team of trained tutors. Each session has a central theme that is important in building literacy such as Imagine, Play, Talk, Sing and Grow, and we hand pick literature and a craft that embody the theme. While children are engaged in the craft, the instructor leads a facilitated discussion with the parents about strategies on how to support children as readers. This gives them a safe space to debrief with each other, as well as talk about their own educational and career goals. Through this comprehensive approach, it is our goal that families build a tradition of literacy in the home.

Since the program’s launch in January, we’ve facilitated 172 hours of family reading and given away 140 books. What’s so exciting about this program is that parents are not only encouraged to read more with their children at home, but they feel empowered to get more involved with their children’s school as well. One mother even claimed that because of this program, she wants to get involved in her school’s PTA, so that she can make real changes in the education system.

Let’s Read is currently at one pilot site, and will be fully launching at 5 sites this May.

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