Category Archives: AmeriCorps VISTA

The 30 Year History of Literacy KC

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Literacy KC began as a dream and grew out of a passion to help people.  In 1985, a group of volunteers led by Catherine Matthews perceived a need and created a tiny organization to provide literacy tutoring for adults.  They had become aware of several adults that struggled with literacy skills and felt that there was an answer to help them gain new skills and improve on the limited skills that they had.  With a handful of students, Catherine embarked on a new journey by negotiating the use of a portion of the basement of the Country Club Congregational Church located at 205 West 65th Street, Kansas City, Missouri. She identified several individuals willing to volunteer their time and affiliated with the National Laubach Literacy Council to start a literacy tutoring program for adults.  The affiliation with Laubach provided the organization access to curriculum and materials.  The program was first called Kansas City Laubach Literacy Council.

BENCHMARKS:

1994: 1st Annual Corporate Spelling Bee. The Bee, which remains a significant source of fundraising for Literacy KC, brings teams from corporations in the KC area together to compete in a live spelling bee.  Corporations pay an entry fee and many bring “cheer squads” to compete for the spirit award.  During the Bee, silent and live auctions are held.

1996: For several years prior, the program was operated with an all-volunteer staff. The first Executive Director was hired, as well as a full-time Program Coordinator.

2000: The Literacy Works program was established. In this program, Literacy KC worked directly with corporations to place literacy tutoring skills programs on site at each corporation.  The rationale for the program was that increased literacy skills could increase productivity and reduce turnover for the company.  The strongest partnership was with Truman Hospital.  However, there were two factors that led to the eventual discontinuation of the program: first, many people were reluctant to come to this “volunteer” tutoring program at their place of work because of the stigma associated with an inability to read.  Second, the hospital eventually revised their hiring practices to require a high school diploma and evidence of ability to read, which nearly eliminated the potential student base on site.  The program continued until approximately 2007.

2006: Office relocated to 211 W. Armour Boulevard. It is significant to note that at the time of the move, the organization was paying $1,000 per month in rent to the church and the new monthly expense would be approximately $5,000.  The board approved the move based on information that $50,000 had been raised to support the move.  However, all of the needed financing was not actually available to Literacy KC and the increased expenditure quickly began to prove a challenge. By the end of 2006, the board was called on to make a cash infusion to make payroll.

2008: Near demise. In the summer, Interim Director Cliff Schiappa and Board President Mark Schweizer called a meeting to discuss the current standing of the organization.  In the year prior, board members had pitched in financially in order to keep the doors open and to be able to continue paying staff.  The Bee, although successful in its own right, was not enough to fund the programs and other funding was not coming in as anticipated. As there was no apparent “relief” in sight at that time, the discussion of possibly closing the doors of Literacy KC ensued.  A handful of board members were almost ready to do so, however there was not enough agreement to go ahead with this drastic measure.

Earlier that year, Interim Director Cliff Schiappa had crafted a grant proposal for the Human Foundation.  It was shortly after the above mentioned meeting that it was learned the organization was a finalist for this potential $100,000 grant.  In the end, Literacy KC did not win the overall grant but as one of the three organizations among the finalists, received $10,000.  This money was enough of a “shot in the arm” to keep the board motivated to move forward.

Fall 2008-2011: Staff was realigned to the following: Executive Director, Full-time Program Manager, Open Doors Coordinator, Part-time Tutor Trainer, Part-time Volunteer Coordinator, Operations Manager, Marketing/Communications Specialist [Note: titles may not be exact.]  The first Open Doors grant was developed and the program was funded.

2010: Metropolitan Community College – Penn Valley and a trial student tutoring program began on campus with the college providing the space and Literacy KC providing a classroom instructor and volunteer tutors.

Fall 2011: Formal start of the GEARS program at MCC-Penn Valley. Gillian Ford was hired as the GEARS Coordinator.  During that year, the student identification process was honed and the classroom/tutoring process was fine tuned. Finances remained an issue and board members again infused personal money at the end of the year to ensure bills, payrolls and holiday bonuses were paid.  During the strategic planning process, the board discussed the organization’s significant financial needs, the large number of adults needing the organization’s services, and the unwanted tag that our organization was the “best kept secret in Kansas City.”

2012: New Executive Director Carrie Coogan was hired & Gillian Ford Helm became Director of Programs. During the next year and a half (among many other changes), the organization’s accounting was contracted to Support KC, the lease was renegotiated, and employee health insurance bid out. Carrie and Gillian together reorganized every aspect of Literacy KC’s operations. Through research into adult literacy and reading acquisition, coupled with the success of the GEARS classroom-based program and in-depth analysis on the shortcomings of the one-to-one model, it was determined that a program overhaul was necessary in the evolution of Literacy KC programming if the organization wanted to truly increase numbers served, improve student progress, prove effectiveness, and affect change in our community.

A significant multi-year grant was won from the William T. Kemper Foundation that was the vote of confidence needed in order to leverage dollars from other funding sources in support of the program changes. The next two years brought research, a thoughtful education of Literacy KC supporters on the coming changes, internal administrative improvements, and an infusion of energy and community support into the renewed Literacy KC.

2013: Focus began to zero in on data, outcomes, and program effectiveness. A data consolidation project migrated all data into a single database and allowed valid recording and reporting. The beginning of the Literacy KC VISTA program (through CNCS) supported internal stability and capacity building through the addition of full-time cost-effective staff members.

2014: Literacy KC launched The Impact Initiative, a communications and identity effort to do a number of things: First, the continued diversification of student programming; second, to raise awareness about adult literacy and the visibility of Literacy KC; third, to work with community partners to leverage resources and broaden reach; fourth, to continue to build a strong infrastructure; and finally, to work with our constituents toward a paradigm shift away from one-to-one tutoring toward a classroom-based, instructor-led, tutor-supported, and community-based model called Ticket to Read. 2014 also saw the launch of the Let’s Read Family Reading Program and a major investment from United Way in the form of a substantial multi-year grant.

2015: Launch of the Ticket to Read program. It gave tutors and students a peer group, reinforcing the benefits of social and peer-to-peer learning; it provided relevant, dynamic, and appropriate curriculum; students access academically and geographically appropriate classes; and achieved strong outcomes through trackable metrics.

The first Fund Development Manager was hired, and this investment brought exponentially valuable returns. Literacy KC won the UMB Big Bash award, along with our second multi-year William T. Kemper investment. Partnerships included the Kansas City Public Library, Mid-Continent Public Library, Kansas City Parks & Recreation, Kansas City Public Schools, & more. We also became founding members of the Kansas City Digital Inclusion Coalition, and launched Career Online High School program, a nationally unique partnership with Mid-Continent Public Library and Kansas City Public Library that offers students the convenience of an online platform to earn a fully accredited high school diploma with an attached career certificate.

To mark the organization’s complete transformation and herald in the new era of Literacy Kansas City, the organization began a re-branding process, which also coincided with the 30th year of incorporation of the original Literacy Kansas City.

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On April 28,2016, the new Literacy KC brand was revealed.

2016: At the 2016 Spelling Bee, the new and improved Literacy KC was revealed. The new logo highlights both the different facets of literacy – reading, writing, math, and digital skills – while representing the diverse community that plays a crucial role in building a legacy of literacy in our community and changing lives beyond words. The open doors invite you in as a student or supporter, and the books represent the boundless information and opportunities available through literacy.

To get involved with Literacy KC as we continue to build on our history, visit literacykc.org or call (816)333-9332.

*This is not meant to be an exhaustive, all-inclusive history of the organization, but rather an overview of some of the major events.*

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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:

 

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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: https://my.americorps.gov/mp/listing/viewListing.do?id=68487&fromSearch=true

 

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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: https://my.americorps.gov/mp/listing/viewListing.do?id=68489&fromSearch=true

 

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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: https://my.americorps.gov/mp/listing/viewListing.do?id=68557&fromSearch=true

 

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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: https://my.americorps.gov/mp/listing/viewListing.do?id=68488&fromSearch=true

 

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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: https://my.americorps.gov/mp/listing/viewListing.do?id=68558&fromSearch=true

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 rhenderson@literacykc.org or call our office at (816) 333-9332.

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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.

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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.

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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 rhenderson@literacykc.org

 

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VISTA Check-In: Will Orlowski

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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.

 

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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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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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Meet Kevin Derohanian

As I settle into week four in my new office here on Armour Blvd, I find myself thinking about how I ended up here and my plans at Literacy Kansas City going forward. Moving to Kansas City from the Tampa, Florida area was not an easy decision to make. After graduating from the University of Connecticut (GO HUSKIES!) with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and a Minor in Political Science in May 2015, my relocation to Florida was intended to be more of a long term plan. Both my parents and two sisters reside there and it seemed like a natural decision to rejoin them and settle into a warmer climate. While there, I worked in promotions for a media group in St. Petersburg that managed six radio stations in the Tampa Bay area. It was truly fun and exciting work, but I had my sights set on more of a marketing and communications based position and began looking elsewhere, with a goal of beginning a new job for the new year.

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Kevin cheering on his beloved UConn Huskies

After a family friend suggested looking into AmeriCorps, I found myself filling out a general application and checking their job board in search of any marketing positions. It was there that I saw the opportunity to come work for Literacy Kansas City. While I never ruled out the idea of moving out of the Tampa area, I can say that it was not an original goal of mine to do so. However, after speaking with the staff at Literacy Kansas City, I was compelled to fly out to Kansas City for a weekend and give it a chance. I flew in on a Friday afternoon around 6:00 PM and I had been in contact with Emily Hane (Programs Manager) throughout the week about the possibility of stopping in to see the office. After reporting to her that I had arrived, she was kind enough to invite me to come to the office for a tour. It was there that I also found Will Orlowski (Ticket to Read Program Coordinator/AmeriCorps VISTA) and Lindsey Clark (Family Reading Program Coordinator/AmeriCorps VISTA) waiting for me.  The reason I am telling you this is because ultimately it is a major reason why I decided to move to a new city where I didn’t know anyone in order to come work at Literacy Kansas City. The fact that Emily, Will, and Lindsey were willing to come back to work on a Friday night after a long work week to meet me speaks volumes about the type of people that Literacy Kansas City employs. They went out of their way to make sure that I was able to see both our office and explore Kansas City in the short time that I was visiting. There are not many places in the world where a prospective employee would be given such a high level of hospitality and respect and it is a testament to the caring and dedicated employees involved with Literacy KC. The top notch employees combined with the unique mission of Literacy Kansas City to improve all types of literacy skills for its students made the decision to come here a relatively simple one.

 

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Kevin and his two sisters, Kelsey (right) and Courtney (left).

The first few weeks of my time here has been working towards getting to know Literacy Kansas City in all regards. This means doing everything from reading all documents LKC related to sitting in on classes and getting to know anyone associated with the organization. As time has progressed and my knowledge of Literacy Kansas City has increased, my decision to come here has been positively reinforced through interactions with students, volunteers, tutors, employees, donors, and community partners on a daily basis. It is refreshing to come to a place where everyone is so determined to accomplish the same goal. My job as the Marketing and Communications Coordinator is to work to improve how we broadcast just how great Literacy Kansas City is to the community! I will be doing this through our social media channels and email/mailing communications, among other things. I look forward to furthering Literacy Kansas City’s exposure in the Kansas City metropolitan area and beyond. If anyone has any questions or suggestions for me going forward, please feel free to email me (k.derohanian@literacykc.org) or call me (816-333-9332, extension 102). Also, if you find yourself in our office, my door is always open and I welcome any visitors!

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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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