Giving Thanks: Our Board and Staff are Thankful for…

I’m most thankful for the dedication and passion of the LKC staff and volunteers. They make the difference! -Ed Nickel, Board Member


Eze & friends at Martin Luther King, Jr's childhood home

Eze & friends at Martin Luther King, Jr’s childhood home



Eze Redwood, Google Fellow: 

I am very thankful for the Goosebumps and Encyclopedia Brown series’ of books. Together they exposed me the “choose your own adventure” style that has captured my attention and made me love reading!





Rachel's cat, Purr

Rachel’s cat, Purr



Rachel Cash, Fund Development Manager: 

I am grateful that I started graduate school this fall. It is a blessing to be able to learn new things every day.

I am also grateful for my cat, Purr.




Gillian & family

Gillian & family




Gillian Helm, Executive Director:
I am grateful that I get to rediscover all the books, words, language, and laughter I loved as a child through the literary explorations of my own little ones every day.




Claire enjoying KC nightlife

Claire enjoying KC nightlife



Claire Bishop, Board Member:
I am thankful to live in a great city with a phenomenal community of smart, kind and active citizens. Proud to call this great place home!



Haley (left) & friend at 2015 Royals Home Opener

Haley (left) & friend at 2015 Royals Home Opener


Haley Box, Director of Information Systems:

As a child, my father would sit down with my brother and I each night before bed, cut up an apple slice by slice with a pocket knife – for what we called our “bednight snack” – and read to us from one of many books in our home library. I’m grateful to have grown up part of a family in which reading is valued for its versatile power to educate, entertain, and spark curiosity in the unknown. I’m also grateful, like most KC natives, for the Kansas City Royals!



Will & Literacy KC student Shirley Lewis

Will & Literacy KC student Shirley Lewis

Will Orlowski, Ticket to Read Program Coordinator and AmeriCorps VISTA:

Literacy is the most important way that I connect with and make sense of the world I live in. It allows me to relate to real-world friends, explore the abstract and difficult challenges that life faces us with, and express and articulate myself in a meaningful way.


Sarah & brother, Brian

Sarah & brother, Brian

Sarah Bell, Ticket to Read Program Instructor and Digital Outreach Coordinator:
For as long as I can remember, books have been a source of happiness and comfort for me. They have many uses and provide numerous benefits, but I am especially thankful for literature. A good book opens up new worlds, provides rich characters to learn from, and inspires empathy and understanding of human nature.


Lindsey (right) & family at MU Homecoming

Lindsey (right) & family at MU Homecoming

Lindsey Clark, Family Reading Program Coordinator and AmeriCorps VISTA:
I am most thankful for my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Wilson, because he created a competitive book club called Battle of the Books. Each week, the teams would have to read a book and then would answer trivia questions about it in front of our parents, other students and our teachers. Battle of the Books made reading fun, competitive and challenging, and I attribute it to why I love reading so much today!


Kate (far left) and family

Kate (far left) and family

Kate Brown, Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator:
I’m thankful for my parents who created a home that valued reading which developed in me a deep love for the written word and for my mom who tirelessly (even when she fell asleep in the middle of a chapter!) read out loud to my brother and me every night before we went to bed when we were little.


Paul and wife Amelia at Union Station for the Royals parade 2015

Paul and wife Amelia at Union Station for the Royals parade 2015

Paul Rosenboom, Board Member:
I am thankful for my uncle Lloyd. When my cousins and I were young, he would gift us children’s books which were often signed by the author. At the signings, he would inquire about inspirations for the story or characters or the author’s background and relay the added color to us. This would make the reading more interesting and add something special to already enjoyable books.


Julia and son, Elijah

Julia and son, Elijah



Julia Wendt, Instructional Team Leader:
I am thankful that our Kansas City Royals are truly World Champions again!!! I am also thankful for my wonderful Literacy KC community, and all of my loved ones!



Judy Pfannenstiel, Board Member:
I continue to be thankful for the public library that was available to a rural child like me. We had no books in our home, but each week my parents would take us kids to the library where each child would check out the maximum limit of 10 books. And I’m thankful for my parents, who chose to ignore the fact that I would read with a flashlight under the covers well after everyone had gone to bed!

Rekha Patnaik, Board Member:
I am most thankful to my daughter for her love of reading. At a tender age of 5, she is smitten by books in four different languages: English, Hindi, Russian and Spanish! I am also thankful to my parents for providing me with resources and love to inculcate the respect for books and drive for academic achievement.

Phil Denver, Instructor:
I am thankful for the poems of Langston Hughes, the prose of Sandra Cisneros, the speeches of Sojourner Truth, the jokes of George Carlin and everything my students write!

Heather Starzynski, Board Member:
I am thankful for my third grade teacher, Ms. Daisy-Mae Meyer (seriously, that was her name! :)). She brought books into the classroom that I can still remember changing my life with regard to how one can get lost in another world with books like Boxcar Children and Little House on the Prairie.  I’m also thankful for the amazing experience I’ve had as a tutor, learning about the struggles and stunning resilience of the woman with whom I worked.

Nancy Clay, Instructional Specialist:
I am thankful for a professor of American Lit at San Francisco State who would get so involved and excited about discussing a book that he would literally run around the room as he led the discussion, embrace students who said ‘brilliant’ things and write on the walls or board or door or whatever with chalk as he was too focused to realize where he was standing. It was during a discussion of Moby Dick that I first said something ‘brilliant’ and fell even more in love with reading than I had thought was possible.

Kim Rogers, Operations Manager:
I am thankful for all of my teachers/professors who pushed me to be my best and always go above and beyond.

Dana Moriarty, Board Member:
I am so thankful for my luminous mother who instilled in me the joy of reading through “Charlotte’s Web”,”The Wind in the Willows”, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”, and “Fear of Flying”! My joy has multiplied with my son, reading “Goodnight Moon”, “The Night Kitchen”, ALL the Harry Potter books… to today, discussing Franzen, Sedaris, Diaz and more.

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November 26, 2015 · 8:02 am

How to Build a Better Book Club: Member Mix Keeps It Lively

As avid readers and literacy fans, most of us have belonged or do belong to a book club – at least one! We wondered, what makes a book club succeed? Wine or martinis? Appetizers and desserts? In homes or libraries? Daytime or nighttime?

“My book club would be held on Sunday afternoons. Dress code: warm-weather black tie.  Cocktails from 3 to 3:30. Chitchat from 3:30 to 4. Personal drama from 4 to 5. Book discussion from 5 to 5:30. Early dinner from 5:30 to 7. Then everyone goes home,” muses Mindy Kaling, star of sitcom “The Mindy Project” and author of a bestselling memoir, Why Not Me?

Members of the local reading group The Blue Dot Book Club pose together.

Members of the local reading group The Blue Dot Book Club pose together.

Book clubs indeed are based on as many approaches as there are kinds of books. In an article from Johnson County magazine, April 2015, the writer found more than 100 public library-sponsored book club meetings in the Greater Kansas City area. This Friday, for example, a book group with the name of our very own blog – “Between the Lines” – will meet at noon at the Westport Branch of the KC Public Library for a discussion of its monthly book selection. Another of our partners, The Mid-Continent Public Library, holds numerous monthly book groups at its various branches, for genres ranging from mystery to genealogy to “fiction addiction.”

Rainy Day Books holds occasional book clubs at its store in Fairway, KS, in connection with author appearances. This week, for example, author Susan Elia Macneal discussed her newest Maggie Hope Mystery, Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante with the Rainy Day Books Mystery Club.

In a short survey of Literacy KC’s most ardent supporters – the hardworking, generous volunteer members of our Board of Directors – results showed that the most important factor of a successful book club is — the people. The best book clubbers are those who are congenial and willing to read selected books. Book club hosts, usually the ones charged with making the meeting’s book selection, are most effective when they match the right books to their participants. Motivating people to participate – to actually read the book and be prepared to discuss it – is critical. This job is a lot easier with engaging individuals who really enjoy a variety of books and are open to discussing any topic of any particular book, no matter how controversial.

The drive behind getting together on a monthly or bi-monthly basis is key. At its most basic, members need to enjoy meeting and talking with each other. Being committed to the group really helps, too. It’s just not much fun when you’ve made a fabulous apple tartine and only two clubbers show up to ooh and aah! Not to mention what repeated low turnouts could do to club morale. The right mix of members can keep the club lively. One suggested approach is to mix male and female readers, not necessarily couples, but of similar ages. Add craft beer to a Fifty Shades of Grey sequel discussion and who knows!

A book club’s size can be tricky. It’s exciting to keep adding members, but grow too large and some people may be less eager to contribute comments. Somewhere between 6 and 10 is ideal for comfort and also makes home-hosting a less daunting task. Above all, members who have some common linkages, but also offer diverse opinions, can make a book club an event on your calendar worth anticipating.

Now, get busy and read next meeting’s book!


Kansas City Public Library

Mid-Continent Public Library

Rainy Day Books

Johnson County Lifestyle

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Filed under Power of Reading, Uncategorized

Family Reading Days Have Begun: Bringing Multiple Generations Together for the Joy of Reading

by Lindsey Clark, AmeriCorps VISTA, Family Reading Program Coordinator

What’s your biggest dream? It’s a loaded question.

As I sat in Literacy Kansas City Instructor Sarah Bell’s Ticket to Read class yesterday, I noticed that a lot of the students thought so, too. “What’s your biggest dream?” she asked again. At my student table, we dreamed of having a huge kitchen, big enough to cook for however many people we wanted. We talked about family, and providing for the ones we love, whether it be taking our grandchildren on a trip (to somewhere warm, of course) or being able to support our parents and children. After about 10 minutes, Sarah asked the class to share their biggest dreams and heard the following:

A Literacy KC Family Reading Day was held at Woodland Elementary October 13 for about 30 children and adults. Clare Hollander, a librarian from the Kansas City Public Library, led the event.

A Literacy KC Family Reading Day was held at Woodland Elementary October 13 for about 30 children and adults. Clare Hollander, a librarian from the Kansas City Public Library, led the event.

“To win the Powerball!”

“To get married and have kids.”

“To get my GED, and own my own house. That’s been my dream for 20 years.”

I looked around the classroom; every single student was smiling. It’s moments like this that remind me how important Literacy KC is, and how our classes pay a huge role in our student’s success. As for me? My biggest dream is to help as many people as I can, whether it be to advocate for them, teach them, or even just listen to them and show that I care. That’s the reason I applied to be an AmeriCorps VISTA and became the Family Reading Program Coordinator at Literacy KC.

For the past year and a half, the Family Reading Program has had two main components: Adult Education and Family Literacy. Recently, we’ve noticed is that the adult education class we offered was becoming very similar to our adult literacy Ticket to Read classes. As a result, for the first time ever, we are now offering Family Reading Days only. Family Reading Days occur biweekly or monthly (depending on the site) and are an interactive story time for ALL members of the family. A librarian typically reads 3-4 stories, sings songs, leads a literacy related craft or activity, and then every child gets to leave with a brand new book!

This kind of parent/child event has been very popular and successful in schools, so we are offering ours outside of the Kansas City Public School district: in community centers, apartment complexes, and transitional housing locations, or shelters.

In a 2014 study, the University of North Carolina found that “the size of a home library is the most important influence on a child’s reading performance in 42 nations, followed by the parents’ occupational status, then parents’ education status” (Evans, Kelley, Sikora, 2014). We hope that through the Family Reading Days program, we will be able to give out hundreds of children’s books, as well as give parents the knowledge, resources, and tools to be able to read with their children effectively. I’m very excited about the future of the Family Reading Program, and hope that through our recent change, we can begin to break the cycle of intergenerational illiteracy. When these families are asked, “What is your biggest dream?” it is my hope that they are as inspired as are our Ticket to Read students, and can see that literacy is the most important skill to help them reach their dreams and those of their children.

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Filed under For Students, For Tutors, For Volunteers, Power of Reading, Programs & Services, Understanding the Need

Literacy KC Student Story: Kim Kline

by Will Orlowski, Americorps VISTA, Ticket to Read Program Coordinator

“I want to complete everything you have to offer!” – Kim Kline

When I asked Kim Kline to sit down with me after her class on Monday, the first thing she wanted to know was what she had done wrong. I smiled and told her, “Nothing!” and that, in fact, she had done a lot right and I wanted to interview her for this blog post. She seemed surprised and a little bashful, telling me that she did not think anyone would want to read about her. Nevertheless, she was happy to answer my questions.

This is a perfect example of why Kim is an exemplary student. Kim is modest and polite, incredibly friendly and always willing to stick around and speak with me or the instructors if needed. She works hard and comes to class every week prepared and eager to learn more.

Kim with Limo

Kim (center) and other students pose on the red carpet before boarding the limo that would take them to the Literacy for All Luncheon. “The luncheon and the limo ride,” Kim says, “was one of the best days of my life.”

“I was tired of not being able to read,” Kim said to me when I asked what brought her to Literacy Kansas City. Retired now, Kim was born and raised in Topeka before moving to Kansas City to support her daughters and help raise her grandchildren. In fact, prior to retiring Kim worked in the daycare her grandchildren went to, caring for them and other Kansas City children. It was her family, Kim says, that helped her take the first step with her literacy.

“It was something I’d been wanting to do for years,” Kim told me. She had not had the courage to try until her daughters encouraged her, and when they referred her to Literacy KC she knew it was time to start.

“Before I started the program I was beginning to have a positive attitude, but since I started I’ve felt wonderful… For the first time in my life I believe that I can accomplish this.” Kim made sure to praise her teacher, Sarah Bell, particularly.

“Miss Sarah is a special person,” Kim said with a grin. “Miss Dorothy (Elliot) and Miss Brenda (Moore) are wonderful too, but all of them are great,” she also mentions, referring to the tutors that work with her class, which meets every Monday and Wednesday for an hour and a half. Currently, her class is reading about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and on Monday they read his famed “I Have a Dream” speech. The students all were asked to write about their own dreams, and Kim was quick to tell me hers.

“I want to complete everything you have to offer,” she says with determination, referring to the other programs offered at Literacy Kansas City. She is particularly interested in math tutoring and the digital life skills workshops designed to help students increase their comfort and efficiency with technology. Judging by her work ethic, this is definitely an achievable dream for Kim.

“Kim is such a positive presence in class,” her teacher Sarah told me. “She’s always there and she always works hard. She’s so friendly and so eager to learn.”

As I wrapped up my interview with Kim, I asked her if there was anything she wanted people to know. What she said left me feeling humbled and thankful to have the opportunity to work with people like Kim every day.

“I was nervous at first, but you (Literacy KC staff and volunteers) make everybody feel so special. I feel like you guys really want to help us and accomplish our goals. This place is helping me change my life!”

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Filed under For Students, For Tutors, For Volunteers, Power of Reading, Programs & Services, Student Spotlight, Uncategorized, Understanding the Need

Minding Our Peas and Queues: Learning English is Tricky!

By Alleen VanBebber, Literacy Kansas City Board Member

Remember when your baby (or friend’s baby or baby brother) began speaking in phrases and how much the little guy seemed to enjoy it? He didn’t know he was entering a verbal jungle, by being born a native English speaker. He didn’t know he was doing something hard as he began making sense of words and sentences. He learned how to converse by just listening. He didn’t have to know or care why cyclists ride bicycles and bikers ride motorcycles. It didn’t worry him that “He” put his shoes on, but “She” didn’t put shis shoes on. Or why there were houses, but house rodents weren’t mouses. He might have thought it odd that two cows were cows, while two sheeps were sheep, but he learned early which to say and not be laughed at or be corrected.cactus punI’m in awe of LKC students who tackle learning English as a second language. They arrive as adults who have mastered their own language systems, with rules and customs that are second nature to them. They don’t expect to be hit with a convoluted, arbitrary system that defies any rational explanation, more often than not. Don’t we tell them to add up numbers by reading them down the row? Imagine if the actual rules of mathematics were as subject to inexplicable whim as are our instructions for using those rules.
And it’s not just those who grew up speaking Spanish, or French, or Tagalog who can stumble. It’s even tricky for those who speak non-American English. For example, we Americans use “bloody” as a harmless euphemism for epithets we can’t say in polite company: as in “he doesn’t have a bloody clue.” Watch the room chill if you use that word in a formal setting in England or Ireland. But, since our Founders decided against having a monarchy, we at least don’t have to explain why there are kingdoms but no queendoms!

Many students hate punctuation even worse than let's eat grandmathe other frustrations of learning English. Some want to bypass the agony by ignoring punctuation altogether—who cares about commas, as long as the words make sense? But there is a major culinary distinction between “Let’s eat, Grandma,” and “Let’s eat Grandma,” now isn’t there?

As a high school teacher, I used to read essays from native speakers containing malapropisms, misspellings, and other—sometimes, Freudian—mishaps that made me laugh so hard I snorted Coke out my nose. No, strike that comment: talking today about snorting coke could get your phone tapped. Pity the person who tries to master American idioms and cultural references by reading books written before 1980. Our ever-changing idioms aren’t even common to a region, let alone a continent. In short, hats off to our adult English as a second language learners. They have it tough, and that’s for sure, dude.

For more on this topic, take a look at Crazy English, by Richard Lederer, and Eats, Shoots and Leaves: the Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, by Lynne Truss. They are both fun and educational.


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Filed under English as a Second Language, For Students, For Tutors, For Volunteers

Just why do so many adults have trouble reading?

Most studies of intelligence are carried out with young people. Recently, there has been growing interest in how intelligence develops, or fails to develop, over the course of a lifetime. The better the fit between an individual’s spectrum of intelligences and the domain (or vocation) of knowledge, the more likely that intellectual growth will continue through the adult years.

Howard Gardner, psychologist and founder of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, states, “Since each human being has her own unique configuration of intelligences, we should take that into account when teaching, mentoring or nurturing. As much as possible, we should teach individuals in ways that they can learn.”

The MI theory encompasses eight distinct ways that individuals best learn, from spatial to naturalistic. With increasing class sizes and standardized testing, it’s easy to visualize how difficult individualized instruction of students has been for elementary and secondary schools for many years.

Taking a look at why students are non-readers in their early school also helps to answer the question.

Educator Louanne Johnson works with reluctant elementary and secondary school readers and states, “I worked hard to convince those students that reading was a skill, not a natural-born talent, and that they were capable of learning. I offered the analogies of basketball, since many of the boys were NBA hopefuls — ‘You can’t sink a free throw if you never get on the court’.”

Johnson outlines ten key reasons student nonreaders don’t read – thus inhibiting their reading development into their adult years.

(Excerpted from:—-and-how-change-their-minds)

1. Reading Gives Them a Headache or Makes Their Eyes Hurt

Recent research suggests that nearly half of people who are labeled as learning disabled actually suffer from scotopic (light) sensitivity. Often schools mislabel scotopic readers as dyslexic (they may or may not suffer from dyslexia, as well) and give strategies that don’t work, because the glare and discomfort remain. (To learn more about vision therapy for problem readers, visit

2. They Can’t Read as Fast as Their Peers (and Get Left Behind)

One first grader I worked with, Kayla, was in such a hurry to read everything quickly that she wasn’t processing anything. When I asked her to slow down and read one sentence, then tell me what it said, she was fine. But when I let her read without interruption, she began racing along, stumbling over words, and was unable to answer basic questions about what she had read. “Why are you reading so fast?” I asked her. She sighed. “Because I have to go fast. That’s how we do it at school.”

3. They Fear They’ll Have to Read Out Loud and Others Will Laugh

Some teachers call on students to read aloud as a way of keeping them awake or alert in class. Shy or timid students never volunteer and fail to develop this skill.

4. They Expect to Be Tested on What They Read — and to Fail the Test

Students learn to see reading as a chore, a competition, or a test.

5. They Believe They Have to Finish Every Reading Selection, No Matter How Long or Difficult

Forcing kids who don’t read well to finish material that is far above their ability level or that has no relevance to them can ruin reading for them.

6. They Fear Their Opinions Will Be Wrong

Teachers often ask students to write their opinion about a book or story. A student who has worked hard on his or her essays expects high marks for effort and content. When their teacher assigns either a D or an F, the student is sent a clear message: Your opinion is worthless.

7. They Always Get Put Into the “Slow” Group, Which Makes Them Feel Stupid

When I ask adults how old they were when they formed their opinions of their own intelligence, nearly all agree that they decided how smart they were during the first few years of school, when they were learning to read.

8. They Believe They Are Too Far Behind to Ever Catch Up

When students read below grade level, they don’t understand that increasing their skills to the next level isn’t as hard as they think. A grade level in reading doesn’t correspond to a calendar year. It is just a measure of how well a student reads a specific level of complexity in vocabulary and sentence structure.

9. They Have No Interest in the Material They Are Required to Read

Textbooks by definition are not interesting!

10. They Get Lost and Can’t Remember What They Have Just Read

Many struggling students who can technically read quite well don’t understand what they are reading. They somehow missed the important point that when we read we must create a mental reference. Without that reference, words are just words.


As Howard Gardner notes, most studies of intelligence are carried out with young people. But recently, there has been growing interest in how intelligence develops, or fails to develop, over the course of a lifetime.

Tutor and Students

LKC Tutor Brenda Moore works with students Albert and Breyonna

The better the fit between an individual’s spectrum of intelligences, he says, and their domain (or vocation) of knowledge, the more likely that intellectual growth will continue through the adult years.

Literacy KC works in small, individualized groups with adult students to help make this intellectual growth and potential possible by improving (at last) their reading and writing skills.

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Filed under For Tutors, For Volunteers, Tutor Resources, Understanding the Need

Introducing Will Orlowski, AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer & Ticket to Read Program Coordinator

The fall session of Literacy KC’s Ticket to Read (TTR) classes began September 8. As the AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer assigned to coordinate this program for a year, I’m looking forward to sharing my viewpoint about classes, students, events, and the personal stories of success and accomplishment the TTR program is designed to help achieve. It is essential to me that we maintain the individuality of each of our students, so I will be authoring several of the upcoming Student Stories.

My first two weeks as a VISTA have been quite eventful! The process of joining the staff was impressively efficient for the amount of information that had to be handled in a short period of time. My co-VISTA, Lindsey Clark, and I jumped right into the enrollment process, both for new and returning students. This involved a good deal of preparation, both of physical materials (tests, pencils, information handouts) and online data entry, but the payoff was absolutely worth all our efforts. Over the course of the first week I met more than one hundred truly incredible people from all over Kansas City eager to improve their literacy. I met old married couples who had committed themselves to learning to read better together; young men determined to be outstanding fathers; one man very recently from Liberia and his fantastic (and energetic) wife; a dyslexic woman with an inspirational level of confidence despite her past setbacks; and so many more wonderful people.

Our second week featured the beginning of the new students’ Digital Life Skills (DLS) classes. A major aspect of TTR is the promotion of digital literacy, as job success relies heavily on the ability to use and interact with the Internet. The DLS classes, held in our computer lab (generously donated to us by Google Fiber), gave me the first opportunity to meet many of our new students in a group educational setting. We also continued to reach out to several of our returning students; these were people who had been valuable members of our classes and community, and we were lucky enough to re-enroll many of them, ensuring their continued success (and making the LKC staff very happy!).

As the term moves into full swing, my role as TTR program coordinator will begin to take on more of the responsibilities I’ve been tasked with as a VISTA. Student Coordinator Emily Hane and I have already discussed several long-term goals for my year here, which include the streamlining of our data-entry process (particularly of students’ goals) and the inclusion of more start dates for classes throughout the term, giving students more flexible scheduling. Now that fall classes have begun, I will be able to work directly with both executives and instructors to maximize the potential of the Ticket to Read program. Keep reading here weekly, because TTR is headed to some exciting places!


Will Orlowski, AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer

Will Orlowski joined Literacy Kansas City in August 2015 as an Americorps VISTA. As a VISTA (Volunteer In Service to America) Will is tasked with combating poverty and expanding Literacy Kansas City’s capacity to serve the Kansas City community.  Prior to joining Literacy Kansas City, Will graduated with a BA in English Creative Writing from the University of Kansas. He writes poetry and fiction, and has lived in Denver, Houston, New York, Oklahoma City, Lawrence, and Kansas City. Will is an accomplished writer and has over six years of experience in customer service. He was also the Education Officer of his music fraternity, Phi Mu Alpha, for three years while at KU.  Will is an avid sports fan, a passionate Jayhawk, a lover of all things literacy, and truly excited to be a part of Literacy Kansas City.


Filed under Programs & Services