Category Archives: Corporate Spelling Bee

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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A New Brand To Mark A New Era

A little over three years ago, the Literacy Kansas City staff and board underwent a comprehensive strategic planning process that resulted in two major goals: first, to become a more efficient and effective provider of adult literacy services; and second, to leverage community connections to better meet the need. In many ways, our immense progress toward the realization of these goals has resulted in a reinvention, and a more than doubling of size, of our organization. From our classroom-based program service delivery model and community partner collaborative focus, to a dedication to research- and evidence-based programs, and a diversification of services that offers comprehensive, student-centered approaches and outcomes, Literacy Kansas City has certainly come a long way.

Thirty years ago, Literacy Kansas City began as a dream and grew out of a passion to help people. A small group of volunteers perceived a need and created a tiny organization to provide literacy tutoring for adults. Operating from the basement of the Country Club Congregational Church at 64th and Brookside Boulevard, the program was operated with an all-volunteer staff until, a decade later, its first Executive Director was hired. Since then, Literacy Kansas City has remained dedicated to its mission of advancing literacy in our community through direct services, advocacy, and collaboration, and will forever owe a debt of gratitude to its founding members.

As we look ahead to the future of Literacy KC, we have again undergone a strategic planning process.  After many hours of organizational soul-searching, we have determined a common purpose and visionary goal: to become a premiere literacy service provider throughout our region, a model for adult literacy programs, and a leader in adult literacy education. And we are already well on our way.

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Executive Director Gillian Helm working hard with the Spelling Bee on preparing Literacy Kansas City’s new brand!

To commemorate the innovations in 21st century adult literacy curriculum; to acknowledge the progress toward creating a welcoming community for students, staff, and supporters; to acknowledge that literacy goes far beyond words; and to herald in a new era for Literacy KC, we will be launching a new brand at this year’s Spelling Bee. Our refreshed look and logo will help us to better convey the excitement, relevance, opportunity, and potential that we already know we have, and that a new brand will more fully showcase. Please join us on Thursday, April 28, at UMKC’s Pierson Auditorium to commemorate our 30th year of service to our community, to pay tribute to those who came before us, to celebrate the achievements yet to come, and to be one of the first to see the new and improved identity of Literacy Kansas City.

On Friday, April 29, our new signs to the brilliant future of adult literacy will be shown in full color here!

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Spotlight on Our Upcoming Bee’s Power Spelling Teams

Cold sweats, dry mouth, memory loss, trembling fingers, difficulty breathing — these are not only possible side effects to some drugs, but also the sensations people often feel before public speaking. Is it any wonder it’s rated the number one fear in life?

Throw in spelling aloud random and challenging words while standing in front of a large group and you might experience a near-trauma!

On Thursday, April 28, at UMKC, 36 people will bravely face and overcome these fears to compete in Literacy KC’s 22nd Annual Spelling Bee and 30th Bee-Day Celebration. Eleven teams, furiously practicing now even as you read this post, are being sponsored by leading organizations that believe in the high value of adult literacy to the community and their own efforts.

Here is what these power spellers say about the importance of adult literacy:

MCPL Spelling Bee PracticeRebecca Maddox, Mid-Continent Public Library

“Our mission is to enrich our citizens and communities through expanding access to innovation, information, ideas, and inspiration. Promoting adult literacy and helping citizens across Clay, Jackson, and Platte Counties find the tools they need to be successful are crucial components of achieving this mission and are vital to the development and betterment of the community. That is why we are excited to partner with Kansas City Public Library and Literacy KC to offer the groundbreaking new program, Career Online High School. Now, qualified, selected adults have the opportunity to earn a fully-accredited high school diploma and gain assistance with navigating a variety of potential career paths – all for free. MCPL also offers a myriad of other free programs and services that support adult literacy, from online resources such as the Adult Education Center from Tutor.com to book discussion groups to community-wide reading initiatives like The Big Read. Our library is proud to offer assistance to aspiring entrepreneurs through Square One Small Business Services and training for those looking to hone their writing skills and share their stories through The Story Center.”

Ingrid Larson, Children’s Mercy Hospital

“Our medical professionals try to help families cope with the daily challenges of parenting children with complex medical needs. That challenge is even greater when parents must face the added obstacle of illiteracy. Parents with reduced literacy struggle with scheduling and keeping appointments and understanding details about their child’s medication regimen and diagnoses, which are often communicated in writing. Organizations like Literacy KC do great work in giving parents and other adults the tools they need to be able to give their children the best care.”

unnamed (1).jpg   Alan McDermott, Andrews McMeel Universal

“Andrews McMeel Universal supplies comics, puzzles and lifestyle features to newspapers; gift and humor books, comic collections and calendars to bookstores and other retail outlets; and supports dozens of aspiring comic artists on our websites. We can’t do any of this without literate consumers to read and enjoy (and buy!) our products. Readers are our lifeblood, and we are delighted to support the efforts of Literacy KC.”

Paul Rosenboom, Midland Loan Services

“We support Literacy Kansas City because every day the organization changes not only the lives of its students, but the families and communities within which they live. Adult students may be able to read a bedtime story to their children, better navigate financial responsibilities, utilize new technology, obtain their GED, go back to school, or change their career path. Students are advanced socially and economically by their new skills and Kansas City as a whole benefits.”

 

Google Fiber Spelling Bee Team Photo.jpgRachel Merlo, Google Fiber

“Being successful online is impossible without the fundamentals of adult literacy. We’re proud of our partnership with Literacy Kansas City and support their efforts to improve access to literacy – both traditional and digital – for our community.”

 

The other Spelling Team sponsors include: The TEAM CHEER WINNER for the last TWO years, Euronet Worldwide; Black & Veatch; Kansas City Public Library/Boulevard Brewery; Multi Service; and our longest standing team celebrating its 20th year of competition, Rotary Club 13. Literacy KC’s own team of tutors and volunteers will also face the Bee’s extreme spelling challenge, all in recognition of 30 years of service toward Literacy for All.

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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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