Monthly Archives: June 2016

The Need For Kansas City AmeriCorps VISTAs is High!

Did you know that Literacy KC serves as an intermediary for AmeriCorps VISTAs? Along with managing our 3 amazing Literacy KC VISTAs, we also are involved with managing VISTAS at other organizations in Kansas City. The following sites are currently looking for AmeriCorps VISTAs. If you have ever debated becoming a VISTA, now is your chance to get involved and serve! See more information about these opportunities below:



1. Community Capital Fund – The Community Capital Fund (CCF) is a 501(c)(3) community development nonprofit that supports and promotes innovative and measurable community development by focusing on neighborhood capacity building initiatives that leverage community resources and expertise. CCF works with organizations that strengthen and develop the financial, social, and knowledge capital of Kansas City’s historically under-resourced and under-invested communities and neighborhoods. We do this through the Neighborhood Opportunity Grant Program, Neighborhoods Rising Fund, the annual Community Development Workshop, and the online community project mapping tool, CommunityKC.

The Innovation and Outreach Coordinator VISTA  will strengthen and expand existing programs, enable both organizations to measure their success, and take our organizations to new levels.The achievement of the VISTA will build the capacity of CCF and AltCap and in turn, strengthen our work to support building communities that are economically vibrant with strong and empowered neighborhoods.

For More Information or To Apply:


connecting 4 good

2. Connecting for Good: Connecting for Good (CFG) represents the digital literacy arm of Kansas City’s Digital Inclusion Coalition—public, private, and non-profit organizations striving to make Kansas City the first city in America to actually close the Digital Divide. CFG’s vision is ‘Building Communities Through Digital Inclusion’. Connecting For Good follows a three pronged strategy of connectivity, hardware, and training—offering low cost internet connection service and discounted refurbished computers along with a variety of free digital literacy training classes to low-income residents, non-profits, and community centers serving urban core neighborhoods characterized as the ‘digital divide’.

The Development Coordinator VISTA will generate funding and increase community visibility for our services focused on closing the digital divide. This position manages donor relation activities, creates marketing and appeals materials, and related internal/external communications. Duties include managing the financial sustainability plan developed in conjunction with the CEO, generating individual and corporate donors and long term gifts, responding to telephone and e-mail inquiries; donor appreciation communication; developing and executing fund raising events, writing grants. Professional development training will be provided for this role.

For More Information or To Apply:



3. KC Digital Drive: KC Digital Drive’s mission is to make Kansas City a digital leader to improve economic opportunities and quality of life for those who live here. We work toward this mission through three core strategies: bridging the digital divide, driving innovation-led pilot projects with social and civic impact, and working to build Kansas City’s reputation throughout the world by sharing the projects and progress that result from the first two strategies.

The Project Coordinator VISTA will assist with event planning and execution; provide support for project managers, especially in tracking progress, recording metrics, and sharing outwardly project progress; and cultivate cross-channel lines of support for KC Digital Drive’s work, including building volunteer capacity and identifying/pursuing additional funding sources. Particular focus on three KC Digital Drive programs: Code for KC Brigade, KC Coalition for Digital Inclusion, and the Health Innovation Team.

For More Information or To Apply:



4. Mattie Rhodes Center: The Mattie Rhodes Center (MRC) and the Northeast Alliance Together (NEAT) have chosen to engage and affect the low income residents of the Indian Mound and Lykins neighborhoods because these neighborhoods are both poised for growth and in need of more direct support.

The Community Engagement Coordinator VISTA will build relationships with neighborhood residents in order to increase engagement with the neighborhood associations with the outcome being increased economic and political power for the neighborhoods. The Community Engagement Coordinator will work with low-income residents, connecting them with services meant to increase financial well-being, economic security, access to affordable housing, financial literacy, and employment. The Community Engagement Coordinator will promote the Urban Homesteading program and other alternative home ownership to increase home ownership in the neighborhoods by low income residents. The Community Engagement Coordinator will identify opportunities for potential programs to be developed in subsequent years.

For More Information or To Apply:



5. Jerusalem Farm: We strive to transform our lives and those around us through service retreat experiences, sustainable living and home repair. Our mission is to make ourselves available to the needs of our community. The main way that we do this is through addressing home repair needs and coordinating volunteers from Kansas City and around the country.

The CNAB Coordinator VISTA will be creating the CNAB program from the ground up. This person will be community organizing, educating neighbors, recruiting and engaging CNAB members and volunteers, as well as creating systems for the program to run on well into the future. The CNAB Coordinator will also work with Jerusalem Farm’s Executive Director to develop a fundraising strategy, research and identify funding sources, and write grants/funding applications for this program.

For More Information or To Apply:

If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact any one of these organizations for more information. You may also contact Literacy KC’s Rachel Henderson at or call our office at (816) 333-9332.

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Filed under AmeriCorps VISTA, Community Partners, For Volunteers, In-Service Workshops, Uncategorized

A Staff Member’s View of Literacy KC

In the past, we sat down with Janice, one of our volunteers, to talk about her involvement with Literacy KC. This time, we sat down with one of our employees, Rachel Henderson, to get a staff perspective on Literacy KC! Rachel Henderson is the Programs Support Coordinator and is responsible for supporting the AmeriCorps VISTA projects and the Ticket to Read program, along with the other programs.

Rachel Henderson and Kim Rogers

Rachel, during her AmeriCorps VISTA year, at the Zoo with Operations Manager Kim Rogers in 2015.

Before you got hired on as a full time employee, you served as an AmeriCorps VISTA for Literacy KC for a year. What did you do during that time? I previously served as the Ticket to Read Program Coordinator VISTA in 2015. During my time as TTR Program Coordinator, I was able to see the initial launch of the classroom model from our previous one-on-one tutoring model, develop and implement systems to ensure program sustainability (such as class rosters, goals, and reporting measures), and was fortunate enough to build strong relationships with our students.

What is it that brought you back to work for Literacy KC as a full time employee? This truly is a great organization to work for and it stands behind a great mission. Along with the amazing staff, volunteers, and donors that we have, I came back for our students. The commitment that our students have in improving their literacy skills and making time to better themselves in light of everything that may be going on in their lives is truly aspiring. I appreciate working somewhere that is bigger than myself, where I have the opportunity to serve others.

What is your favorite part about working for Literacy KC? My favorite part about working for Literacy KC is the students.

What are some things that set Literacy KC apart from other organizations? What about working at Literacy KC is so special? Our focus is on the success of our students and I think that is truly special. We aren’t focused on doing things that are great for us individually or as a business; I truly believe that every action taken by Literacy KC is to benefit the students. Every person involved with our organization has a heart as big as the sky and that shows in our day-to-day operations. That sets us apart from other organizations and is rare to find!

What is the biggest challenge you face when it comes to working for an organization that deals with adult literacy? The biggest issue that I see when it comes to working or dealing with adult literacy is the need for more support and resources. While children may be tomorrow’s future, today’s adults have to help our children get there. When we are not able to provide the adults with the resources they need to improve their literacy, which we hope they will pass to their children, then a systematic issue of low-literacy develops in the community.


We are very happy to have Rachel back on the Literacy KC team!

If you could describe Literacy KC in one word, what would that word be and why? Dedicated. Literacy KC is a dedicated and devoted group of staff, volunteers, partners, and donors. Our students are willing to go the distance to seek and be the change in the future our community.

Tell us one interesting fact about you or something people may not know about you. I really enjoying listening to country music. My favorite country song is “BBQ Stain” by Tim McGraw. I also love artists like Rascal Flatts, Shania Twain, Dixie Chicks, the list could go on and on, but I love a good country song!

Is there anything else that you would like people to know about Literacy KC? Anything else you want to add? I could not be more happy to reunite with such a driven organization that is revolutionizing the future of adult literacy in Kansas City. My door is always open for a good laugh, conversation, anything. Come visit me anytime!

Do you have any questions for Rachel? Email her at


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Filed under AmeriCorps VISTA, For Tutors, For Volunteers, In The News, Uncategorized

How to Start a Little Free Library

You’ve seen them. The cute, tinier than tiny houses staked at the curb in front of homes, churches, libraries, stores and, in some cities, even zoos. Growing at a faster rate than even HGTV’s “Tiny House Nation” spews out reruns, the Little Free Library is a novel (get it?) way to make reading fun, easy and FREE for more adults and children in all kinds of neighborhoods.

You see, each little house is stuffed with a variety of hardback and paperback books, donated by readers from around the neighborhood. At a recent visit to a nearby Little Free Library, book titles ranged from “Cosmic Enigmas” to “Baby Fever” to “Air Dance Iguanas.” Visitors are invited to take a book and return it, or donate a new one.


Todd Bol designed and constructed the first little free library with free books in Hudson, WI, in memory of his mother, a devoted teacher and avid reader.



So using a Little Free Library is easy, but how about starting one? The website,, will help and inspire you. The organization began nine years ago when Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, built a memorial tribute to his mother, a teacher who loved to read. His structure was a model of a charming one-room schoolhouse, which he filled with books, and put on a post in his front yard. The neighborhood response was so enthusiastic that he started building and giving away more little houses, each with a sign that read FREE BOOKS.

When Todd joined forces with Rick Brooks, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor, the concept began to grow into a movement. By 2010, the mission of the little houses had emerged: to exchange good books and bring people together.  People started calling them “Little Free Libraries.” The goal became to build 2,510 Little Free Libraries – as many libraries as philanthropist Andrew Carnegie supported at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. In May 2012, Little Free Library was officially established as a Wisconsin nonprofit corporation and three months later the initial goal was met.

Growing ever since, by this May the total number of Little Free Libraries in the world reached 40,000! About 30 of those are in Kansas City, Missouri, plus several more on the Kansas side. But with Little Free Library’s goal of 100,000 by 2017, there’s plenty of room for more. Building one is an ideal way to recognize a person or group that has been significant in spreading the joys of reading, learning and literacy.


This is the closest Little Free Library to the Literacy KC office. It is located at 3775 Washington Street, KC, MO, and is in need of book donations!

The following tips are highlights of the process. For detailed instructions, be sure to visit where you can also sign up for their Insider’s Newsletter.

  1. Identify a location and a steward – someone who promotes and takes care of the library. The location should be approved by your city. Two years ago, a few Kansas suburban towns, including Leawood and Fairway, took issue with the new structures, but have since added or modified ordinances allowing a Little Free Library to be built according to criteria. (See below about criteria in Fairway, KS.)
  2. Get a library. You can build your own or find someone to build it for you. The Little Free Library website offers resources for both. Local carpenters, artists, hardware stores, scout troops, and schools are often enthusiastic about doing such a project.
  3. Register your library. This allows you to legally use the name Little Free Library. If you purchase the library through the online catalog, it will automatically be registered. Registration also provides several other attractive features including access to the private Facebook group to network with thousands of fellow stewards.
  4. Build support. Find people who love to read and want to strengthen their community. Connect with schools, librarians and neighborhood associations. A local PR firm might donate time to promote your library. You can also start a Facebook page or Instagram account specifically for the library if you are willing to update it regularly. All of these efforts will help you keep well stocked with books.
  5. Add your library to the world map. Once you have installed your library, be sure to hold a grand opening ceremony and invite all of friends and neighbors! When you add the library to the website’s world map, anyone can easily find your library and you will have increased the total number worldwide and helped spread the joy of reading.

Free Reading in Kansas

While Little Free Libraries have flourished throughout Kansas City, MO, just a handful exists on the “Free Stater” side.  In 2014, a nine-year-old Leawood, KS boy’s Little Free Library was ordered by the city to be removed from his front yard. After hearing the boy speak, the City Council amended its ordinance restricting detached structures. About the same time, Fairway, KS, added the following new criteria allowing Little Free Libraries to be built in private yards:

  • Must be permanently fixed in ground on a buried post
  • Must not be placed in the public setback and must be 10-12 feet back from curb
  • Cannot be more than 5 feet in height or more than 3 cubic feet in volume
  • Must not obscure visibility or block traffic
  • Needs to be maintained at all times or will be removed

Have you started a little free library in your neighborhood? Send a picture of it to us at Literacy KC! Email to get your library featured on our social media!

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Filed under For Students, For Tutors, For Volunteers, Uncategorized

Volunteer Rates Have Declined in the U.S

Why do people choose to volunteer? There are a variety of factors that range from the desire to make a difference in the community to learning new skills and building a resume. Regardless of the motivating factor, organizations that rely on volunteer support (such as Literacy KC) certainly appreciate when people in the community get involved. While almost 1 in 4 Americans report volunteering at least once per year, volunteering rates in the U.S have steadily declined over time.

According to the U.S Department of Labor Statistics, the volunteer rate of U.S citizens aged 16 & over has consistently decreased since 2002 (27.6%), when the first annual report was conducted. In 2011, 26.8% of U.S citizens reported volunteering at least once during the year. 2015’s volunteer rate was 1.9% than 2011’s, with a net loss of 1,629,000 volunteers despite a growing U.S population. The table below outlines the year to year changes in volunteering over the last five years.

Screenshot 2016-06-08 10.45.56

That leaves many people to wonder: why is the volunteering rate is decreasing? Some of the possible reasons that have been listed include economic and financial stress, regional volunteering differences, changes in government funding, and an increase in single-parent households/households where parents hold multiple jobs. The variety of reasons given suggests that perhaps there is not a single factor causing this shift, but rather a combination of them as a whole.

The next question that is important to examine is: what types of activities are volunteers dedicating their time to? In 2015, the U.S Department of Labor Statistics found that among people who volunteered, the top three types of organizations that drew volunteers were religious (33.1%), educational & youth service related (25.2%), and social/community service related (14.6%).

Screenshot 2016-06-08 10.51.19

The graph above shows differences in volunteer rates between men & women, along with the total volunteer rate. While women traditionally volunteer at a higher rate than men, does each gender perform the same tasks when they volunteer? The data suggests that the answer to this question is no. In 2015, the top three volunteer activities that men performed were:

  • General Labor (12.3%)
  • Coaching, Refereeing, or Supervising Sports Teams (9.3%)
  • Collecting, Preparing, Distributing, or Serving Food (9.2%)

On the other hand, the top three volunteer activities for women in 2015 were:

  • Collecting, Preparing, Distributing, or Serving Food (12.9%)
  • Tutoring or Teaching (10.6%)
  • Fundraising (9.9%)

Regardless of the activity that a volunteer chooses to dedicate his or her time to, the value of volunteer hours to an organization is monumental. It is estimated that as of 2015, each hour of volunteer time is worth $23.56. In Missouri specifically, there are over 37,000 Nonprofit organizations!

Literacy KC is so grateful to all of our volunteers that have chosen our organization as their destination for dedicating their time. Despite the national trend of declining volunteer rates, Literacy KC has experienced tremendous volunteer growth over the years as the organization has expanded its size and services. In 2015, Literacy KC had 355 Volunteers who dedicated 7,139 hours to the organization! That is the equivalent of 3.5 full time employees and would have cost the organization over $165,000. Have you ever thought about volunteering your time at Literacy KC? Come join a truly special community of people who are working to improve adult literacy in Kansas City. There are a number of ways to get involved! For more information about volunteer opportunities, please visit our website, email, or call 816-333-9332.


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

VISTA Check-In: Will Orlowski


As the final term of my VISTA service becomes ever more imminent, I find myself tasked with reflecting on my experiences thus far. So much has occurred in my time at Literacy KC, however, that a comprehensive summary would require more space and detail than I think is reasonable. How could I quantify all of the things that I’ve learned, or adequately describe the overwhelming positivity of our students? Instead I will try to describe the nature of that service, and attempt to provide a VISTA perspective on the progress and direction of Literacy KC.

VISTA stands for “Volunteers in Service to America.” We are trained and deployed by AmeriCorps to provide support and long-term growth in the form of capacity building, while simultaneously experiencing American life from a perspective of poverty and hard work. Volunteering is a major aspect of a VISTA’s year of service; not only have I been shown the nature of our students’ day-to-day, but that of our many volunteers as well. I have seen the impact they have on the organization from every level, whether it is by witnessing our phenomenal tutors in action or working with the volunteers that helped make our Spelling Bee possible. I have also seen the significance they draw from their time with the students, the invaluable relationships they have made with so many incredible men and women. This capacity for connection, the celebration by our students and tutors of their differences as well as their similarities, is the most significant lesson I have learned in my time at Literacy KC.

The most important aspect of a VISTA’s service, however, is capacity building. Where other branches of AmeriCorps may focus on disaster relief or more immediate forms of direct service, our goal is to help develop existing programs and/or implement new ones. Ideally, each VISTA will leave the organization better than they found it, with the ability to point to specific examples where they contributed something concrete and efficient. All VISTAs are stationed at non-profits that do important work within their communities, and it is this combination of locally focused organizations and nationally stationed capacity builders that helps to grow and support thousands of people around the country.


Will Orlowski, Shirley Lewis, Literacy for All Luncheon

VISTA Will Orlowski & Student Shirley Lewis at the 2015 Literacy for All Luncheon.

During my term with Literacy KC I have seen first-hand the impact adult literacy education has on a community. I’ve met dozens of people who have brought their own intelligence and work ethic to our classes and permanently improved their lives (and many of the lives of those around them). Literacy KC’s ability to do this has changed quite a bit over the last few years; the most major difference has been the switch from one-to-one tutoring to our current classroom model, but even since then our growth has been rapid. I personally have had the opportunity to oversee and take part in many different projects. New tests have been selected to more accurately measure our students’ advancement, and we have had to adjust and re-adjust our enrollment process to incorporate these changes. The way in which we track students’ achievement of their goals has become a more concrete and reliable process with the implementation of new data collection and analysis strategies. The Student Needs Committee was created to help our tutors provide even more assistance to their students by granting those who need it with basic necessities like bus passes and eye glasses. The students have also taken a larger role in the decision making process of the organization; the student advisory council, or “Together We Stand,” gave students a chance to nominate their own representatives, speak publicly regarding their needs as students, and even to organize and run their own end-of-term celebration. These are a small sample of the many things I can proudly say I have been a part of here at Literacy KC.

Ultimately, being a VISTA is about learning. This experience has afforded me the opportunity to learn what it takes to succeed in a professional environment, as well as the many challenges that come with living on a small government stipend designed to closely reflect the average income of our student population. It has been a difficult year, with many adversities and some failures. It has, however, provided me with access to some truly incredible people; students who lead lives that constantly inspire, and volunteers who regularly model dedication and compassion. There is still this last term to go, and I know it will be as hectic and surprising as the first two. But I also know, at the end of it, I will be proud.

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Filed under AmeriCorps VISTA, Programs & Services, Uncategorized