A Volunteer’s View of Literacy KC

We sat down with Janice, a volunteer tutor for Literacy KC in our Ticket to Read program, to find out more about why she dedicates her time to our organization.

What drew you to Literacy KC?

“I retired at the end of 2010 and knew I wanted to get involved with literacy. I saw an ad in the paper for Literacy KC and called and they said they needed volunteers. I completed the training program and began volunteering. I’ve been a volunteer for 5 years now.”

Why did you become a volunteer?

“I have always been really interested in reading and I know how important reading is in order for people to do well in life. I also knew that there was a big literacy problem. You always hear of all these reports of children graduating from high school who aren’t reading or reading at a third grade level and I knew that was something I wanted to help with. When I was a kid we didn’t have video games or much television, so we either stayed inside and read or played outside with friends.”

What is important about the work that you do?

“I’m hopefully helping people on their path to becoming readers!”

What is important about the work that Literacy KC does?

“Filling a big need. We know that there is a huge percentage of adults that are unable to read. I really don’t know how people can function without reading. Today’s society is too complex to get along without it and it amazes me how people manage to get by despite a lack of reading.”

Why do you think it is important to have volunteers at Literacy KC?

“You couldn’t do the job without the volunteers. The instructors can’t teach everybody; volunteers are needed to help out. There is such a difference in each individual’s needs that you almost need to break off and spend time one on one with each individual, and some days we are, depending on the day.”

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Volunteer Tutor Janice (center) with the rest of the Instructor Julia Wendt’s A1 Ticket to Read Class.

What is your favorite part of Literacy KC?

“My favorite part is just helping the students with the basics. I love meeting all these people from so many different backgrounds and I am so inspired by a lot of the students, they are just amazing. 

If you could describe Literacy KC in one word, what would that word be and why?

“Marvelous. Because reading is just marvelous and this organization is just marvelous. There is so much enthusiasm for the students and teachers that it’s great. It’s great that so many people can care about this one thing; it is very essential to this part of life.”

We are so thankful to have amazing volunteers like Janice! Our volunteers, donors, and partners are the backbone of our organization and our success is directly linked to your involvement.

Are you thinking about volunteering with Literacy KC? You can volunteer from as little as one hour all the way to becoming a classroom tutor! For more information, please visit our website at literacykc.org or email kbrown@literacykc.org for volunteer opportunities. You may also call our office at 816-333-9332!

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REPRESENT’s First Cohort of Student-Interns Takes Flight!

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We celebrate our REPRESENT trailblazers: Chauncey, Nicodemas, Dustin, Richard, Quasim, Mynikka, Jaime, Crystal, and Nadia.

Nine student-interns completed the first term of Literacy KC’s young adults’ workshop, REPRESENT, on April 27th! They celebrated their final class with Literacy KC Instructor Phil Denver, Program Coordinator Anne Gatschet, and four volunteer tutor/coaches.  Their journey in this new career readiness and literacy program for young adults ages 16-24 continues, however, with dedicated mentors guiding them throughout the year toward individual dreams and professional goals.

REPRESENT’s first cohort spent 12 weeks writing, reading, speaking and creating in the key areas of identity, career and finance. By the end of the workshop, students had served as marketing consultants to young adults for leaders at Literacy KC and at the Nelson-Atkins Museum. They created a series of tapestries using self-made block print symbols and original poetry on fabric (see photo below).

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REPRESENT Student-Intern Nadia holding the tapestry she created.

Students gave numerous oral presentations, read, and composed texts about workforce soft skills, and took personality inventories. They enjoyed round-table discussions with Kansas City civic leaders. They leave the program with a professional dossier including a resume, personal statement, and a letter of recommendation.

On the final class day, Mr. Denver asked each student-intern to write a statement about what he or she valued most from REPRESENT. Following the writing session, each shared aloud these heartfelt comments:

“The class reminded me how much I really love to read.” – Nadia

“I enjoyed meeting new people. Everyone was friendly, nice and respectful.” – Dustin

“REPRESENT helped me become a better reader and person. It’s helping me to achieve what I most want in life.” – Crystal

“I now have a resume and a letter of recommendation to find my first job.” – Nicodemas

“I learned a lot about myself. My reading, writing and speech has spiked up.” – Richard

“I really improved my reading and writing skills these past 12 weeks.” – Quasim

“I learned many different skills about being confident and not being afraid of asking a question. I’m understanding more about many new topics.” – Jaime

“I enjoyed the speakers who came in to talk to us. The class helped a lot with my reading, writing and comprehension.” – Mynikka

“I learned that everyone at Literacy KC enjoys their day because they are doing something they believe in.” – Chauncey

The next cohort of REPRESENT student-interns is now enrolling for the Term 2 class, beginning May 31st. Each of the first nine will be ready to help!

 

 

 

 

 

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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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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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