Monthly Archives: September 2015

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!

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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.

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Student JeVan McCurdy’s “insanely cool” experience at Literacy Kansas City

Twenty-nine-year-old JeVan McCurdy arrived at Literacy Kansas City the same way many of our students do: After he looked into completing his high school equivalency by taking the GED, the Smithville resident was encouraged to come to the Midtown-based nonprofit.

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McCurdy: “I want to be at a higher pace, at a higher skill than I am now.”

The polite, soft-spoken student admits he was “skeptical” at first. His educational experiences growing up were somewhat negative, and he left his sophomore year of high school. While he says he still wasn’t sure about Literacy KC after his first term with the then new Ticket to Read program, he became fully engaged during his second term, when he met his current instructor, Phil Denver, former head of our GEARS program for MCC-Penn Valley.

“He actually showed me how to break words down and to sound them out,” JeVan explains. “So it helps a lot. And he made me more confident in my writing.”

In fact, one of the highlights of JeVan’s time with Literacy KC was when he wrote his first complete paper.

“When I sat there and I realized I wrote a whole entire paper, I was like, ‘Oh, wow.'”

He goes on to describe what this small, yet monumental victory means to him: “Three paragraphs, properly spelled . . . It’s insanely cool. It made me feel a lot better, way more confident than I have been.”

He also journals nearly daily now, which he says has been “excellent.”

Phil encourages writing in class as well as at home, and one topic in particular is a reflection of the current steps JeVan is taking to achieve his professional ambitions.

“It’s called ‘Lifelong Dreams,’ and mine is to actually be an Iron Chef.” JeVan lights up when discussing this, and it’s obvious how much it means to him that he can write about it. But it’s just a first step, of course. While he’s currently the head chef at a sports bar and grill in Smithville, MO, he still wants to get his GED, start taking college courses and eventually accomplish his professional goals as a chef.

“I want to be at a higher pace, at a higher skill than I am now,” JeVan says.

It’s apparent that he has been inspired to do well in class, even with his long commute from north of the river.

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McCurdy (right) preps to tackle his reading and writing assignments with Ticket to Read Instructor Phil Denver (left) and fellow student Joseph Lewis

“It helps because we have an awesome teacher,” JeVan says of Phil, adding, “I always want to be there with him.”

Phil shares in his student’s joy at his successes in class. He talks about JeVan’s great leadership among the other students, and how his creativity comes through in his culinary skills. On one of the last days of summer classes, JeVan brought in a salsa he’d made. The class loved it. Phil laughs and said a student who didn’t even like salsa was devouring it.

But JeVan doesn’t mention any of this, preferring to talk about what Phil has accomplished in the classroom. “I feel like I’m learning a lot with Phil as a teacher. So that keeps me motivated. And just seeing how much I’ve improved from the past two semesters to now is keeping me motivated.”

Again, JeVan knows these are the first steps. But with Literacy KC’s committed teaching staff, volunteer tutors and expanding resources, he’ll get there.

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

Local Author Candice Millard to Speak at Literacy for All Luncheon

In honor of International Literacy Day, September 8, 2015, we are pleased to launch our new Literacy KC blog, Between the Lines. The Family Reading Program will continue its once-a-month blog here, and for the rest of the month we will host a weekly literacy potpourri of reflections, ruminations, information, and anything else we might be thinking. Expect to see interviews with and stories about our students, staff, and volunteers, views from inside our programs to show you how they work, information from LKC and other literacy programs across the nation, and whatever current news we might have on our minds. There might be humor involved, maybe even book reviews.

Speaking of book reviews, all of us are excited to hear what Candice Millard has to say when she speaks on September 25 at the Sixth Annual Literacy for All Luncheon. We’re pretty sure you know about and most likely have read her first two books. Both River of Doubt and Destiny of the Republic were New York Times best sellers, and made the lists of “best books of the year” for the Times, the Washingon Post, Kirkus Reviews, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many other reviews and lists, including those in The Kansas City Star.

Candice Millard

Candice Millard

We hope she’s going to tell us what’s happening as PBS makes documentaries on those two books for its American Experience series. And we’ll be disappointed if we don’t hear about her third book project, which is about the early years of Winston Churchill. Candice is a graduate of Baker University and lives with her family in Leawood, so it’s particularly nice to see her continued success in the world of serious literature. She has told interviewers that she’s an avid reader of other people’s books and that she mostly works on her books during school hours, like many another working mom with young children.

She’s often praised for her unusual ability to take a subject our youngsters might assume to be immensely boring, such as the life events of a U.S. President, and make the facts come alive in books that weave history into tales full of true adventure, mystery, and intrigue. We look forward to seeing her and you at The Gallery event space in the Power and Light District, from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m., Friday, September 25, at this annual luncheon held to benefit LKC.

We’ll be talking at you here about something or other, just about every Thursday. We hope you will be talking back. Don’t be shy, and don’t forget to send us ideas, concepts, and subjects you’d like to read about. We’ll do our best to accommodate you!

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Filed under Announcement, Author Spotlight, Special Events