2015: A Momentous Year for Literacy Kansas City: A Letter from the Executive Director and a Photo Essay of the Year in Review

A Note from the Executive Director

As I reflect and look back on this last year, my question for you is, how much do you really know about what Literacy Kansas City is doing these days? So much has changed around here that if it’s been more than a year or so since you’ve visited us, you might think you’ve come to an entirely different organization!

The most exciting change brought by 2015 was our new Ticket to Read service delivery model. We absolutely transformed the way we reach and teach our students, and the best part of all? It’s working. Better than we ever dreamed.

Those of you who know me well know that in order to illustrate how well things have been going, my instinct would be to tell you the hard facts…

Things like:

  • The total number of students who participated in our Ticket to Read program alone in 2015 was 256!
  • 186 students sent their first email.
  • 64 students purchased their first computer or laptop.
  • 105 students completed an online form, like a job application.
  • 191 students participated in digital life skills classes and gained Internet skills.
  • 60 students got their first library card.
  • 164 visited a library.
  • 19 students wrote their first resume.
  • 37 students got a raise.
  • 49 students got a new job.
  • 76 helped a child with homework.
  • 110 students read to a child.
  • 68 attended a child’s school event.
  • 39 joined their child’s PTO/PTA.

One of the most challenging aspects of adult literacy instruction is encouraging students to persist in their attendance. Literacy Kansas City is making strides in this area, as well, as evidenced by student persistence and retention measures:

Students, instructors, and tutors have achieved over 7000 hours of instruction.

And, perhaps most remarkable of all, Term 3’s Ticket to Read program achieved an astounding 91% retention rate! Meaning more than 9 out of 10 students who started Term 3 finished Term 3 successfully. That is an unheard of statistic in adult literacy education practices.  

So, like I said, I could tell you all sorts of hard facts and type until my keyboard is worn and revolting about the things we know regarding our first year of instruction under this new model.

But right now, maybe it’s the time of year and I’m feeling extra sentimental. Maybe it’s all the unrest and political divisiveness happening in our country. Maybe it’s the violence and controversy around us. Maybe my two little boys are turning this momma into a softie.

Whatever it is, I don’t really want to talk about what we know. Instead, I’d like to talk about how it feels to be a part of Literacy KC. Every day, I come to work and see yet another example of the community we’ve been working toward, the feeling of inclusion, of safety, of belonging, that each staff member, each volunteer, each supporter is investing in and helping us to build. And it is through describing these things that I see each day that I hope you will also start to feel what I mean.

Throughout the last year, I’ve seen:

  • Students spending extra hours in the computer lab at Computer Happy Hour learning new skills- and this stuff isn’t even homework!
  • Students who have particularly bad days come here to get help because it’s a safe place full of people they trust, and they know at the very least they will get a smile and a place to rest their weary feet for a few minutes
  • Students, instructors, and tutors working together in classrooms- people from all walks of life whose paths may never have crossed otherwise- sitting close, shoulders touching, heads bent over a passage or book, writing, reading, and discovering together.
  • A big shot lawyer and a big shot pastor having lunch together to brainstorm ideas on how their congregation can help support the work we’re doing here.
  • Students becoming volunteers- spending extra hours at the office helping with projects because they, too, want to contribute and give back.
  • A group of volunteers, staff, and community members meeting to organize a system for students to get help with emergencies.
  • Partner sites excited to give us space, use of equipment, and the help of staff to support our programs for free, because they believe in what we’re doing.
  • Students continually asking after the well-being of staff members or volunteers who have run into health issues and are absent from work or class.
  • Instructors spontaneously working together with other instructors, staff, or volunteers, excited about yet another discovery.
  • Experts in the field of adult teaching offering time, training, and supplies for free to help us achieve the best approach to teaching possible.
  • Staff working beyond their normal hours to help other staff members with homework or special projects.
  • Students volunteering to read a creative piece or speak about their experiences at very public events, helping us allow students to become our spokespeople and public advocates for the work we do here.
  • Students making sure their friends are getting to class, picking each other up from home, even helping each other out with projects in their homes. In other words, our students are becoming friends and, some would say, even family.

I could go on and on. But because you may be ready to re-join your family’s holiday celebration or go indulge in another slice of pie or another glass of bubbly, I will stop there.

But I do want to share one last thing. I had the good fortune to hear a speech and take part in a workshop on cultural competency and inclusion given by Brigette Rouson, a long-time advocate and activist for social justice. In her speech, she quoted Dr. Cornell West who says, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”

And when we get down to it, isn’t that what we do here? I like to interpret our nonprofit work as justice work, as just, meaning it is making available the services and opportunities that everyone inherently deserves.

And hidden in all those examples of work and effort and learning I listed above is a shared experience, a sense of humanity, good will, justice, and recognition of our own inherent worth. In other words, everyone deserves this- a safe place to explore, to discover, to learn. Everyone.

At times like this, when things are crazy in the world and in our country, I like to think of that Fred Rogers quote. Fred Rogers, AKA Mr. Rogers. You know him- the one with the slippers, cardigan, and puppet friends who make up the most incredible neighborhood.

Anyhow, Mr. Rogers has talked about how his mother would always tell him in times of unrest, uncertainty, or violence: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

And that’s just it. That’s what this year has been like for me. I’m surrounded by the helpers: Instructors helping students. Supporters helping the organization. Experts helping our instruction. Tutors helping instructors. Staff helping each other. Students helping staff. Volunteers helping everyone. Students helping each other.

We all need help, and we’re all fortunate to be in a community that gives – and receives – help freely, without shame, without a sense of entitlement or charity. But because it’s right. And I think it’s an incredible- if somewhat unintentional- side effect of our new classroom and community model. And it’s because we work so hard to build a community here, to collaborate with students in the learning process, to create a place of shared experience, of team mentality, of “we’re all in this together, so let’s help each other out”, that our success is inevitable. And this coming year is one of opportunity, of growth, of accomplishment, of love.

So thank you. And congratulations to our students on such a wonderful achievement. Keep going. We’re here to help, and thank you for your help. And thank you for letting me be a part of it.

Gillian Helm, Executive Director and grateful Literacy KC groupie

The Year 2015 in Pictures

 

 

Kim Rogers, Sarah Bell, Emily Hane, Love Letters

Staff members Kim Rogers, Sarah Bell and Emily Hane enjoying self decorated cookies at Love Letters.

Price Horn, James Carlile, Deborah Roach, Suzie Kemper - UMB Winning Spelling Team

Literacy Kansas City’s 21st Annual Spelling Bee Winners – UMB – Price Horn, James Carlile, Deborah Roach, Suzie Kemper

Will (New VISTA), Rachel Henderson, Robert Day, Emily Hane and Carrie Coogan

Staff members take on a Day at the Zoo.

April Grant and mom, Zoo Day

Student April Grant and her mother at Literacy Kansas City’s Day at the Zoo

Patrice Gonzalez, Becky Holst, Dana Moriarty, Kim Rogers - Outreach Day 20150724

Former VISTA Patrice Gonzalez, Board member Dana Moriarty, Instructor Becky Holst and staff member Kim Rogers with a Little Free Library during Literacy Kansas City’s Student Outreach Day.

Midnight in Paris

Literacy Kansas City supporters enjoying the 2nd Annual Gourmet Dinner – Midnight in Paris.

Lynn O'Connell, Haley Box, Rachel Cash, Gourmet Dinner

Mary Jo Saviano, Board President Lynne O’Connell, staff members Haley Box and Rachel Cash enjoying a Midnight in Paris, Gourmet Dinner.

Dave Mullins, Charlie Vitale, Fred Lewis, Windell Lamb

Volunteers Dave Mullins and Charlie Vitale with students Windell Lamb and Fred Lewis at the Term 2 Student Celebration

Victoria Estes, Raymond Woodson, Student Celebration

Student Victoria Estes and guest with student Raymond Woodson at Term 2 Student Celebration,

Carrie and Peggy accepting check, UMB Big Bash

Former Literacy KC Executive Director, Carrie Coogan, and former student, Peggy Shannon, accept the UMB Big Bash award.

Bride and groom, Wedding

Brent and Ella Rogers saying their vows at their Love, Charity, Rock and Roll Wedding

Gillian Helm, Literacy for All Luncheon

Executive Director Gillian Helm at the Literacy for All Luncheon.

Will Orlowski, Shirley Lewis, Literacy for All Luncheon

VISTA Will Orlowski and student Shirley Lewis at the Literacy for All Luncheon.

Sherrian Robinson, Literacy for All Luncheon

Student Sherrian Robinson speaking at the Literacy for All Luncheon.

Charlotte Brown, Literacy for All Luncheon

Student Charlotte Brown preparing to arrive in style to the Literacy for All Luncheon. Special thanks to Pech Limousine for donating a Limousine for a couple of hours.

Sarah Bell and Elizabeth Nelson, TTR C2

Instructor Sarah Bell with student Elizabeth Nelson during a Term 3 class.

Henry Hurtado, Linda Marcusen, Maricruz Bazaldua, TTR C1

Students Henry Hurtado and Maricruz Bazaldua with tutor Linda Marcusen working hard during a Term 3 class.

Becky Holst and class, TTR A1

Instructor, Becky Holst (far left), and her Ticket to Read class

Henry Hurtado, New Computer, 11.6.15 2

Student Henry Hurtado enjoying his new computer.

Garrett Waters, Mary Thornton, Fred Lewis, Writers for Readers

Students Garrett Waters, Mary Thornton and Fred Lewis reading at the Inaugural Writers for Readers event.

Gillian Helm, Writers for Readers

Executive Director, Gillian Helm speaking at Writers for Readers.

Bol Wajak, Student Celebration 20151209

Student Bol Wajak accepting his certificate at Term 3 Student Celebration.

 

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Filed under AmeriCorps VISTA, Community Partners, Corporate Spelling Bee, For Students, For Tutors, For Volunteers, Fundraisers, In The News, Power of Reading, Programs & Services, Special Events, Student Spotlight

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