Category Archives: Understanding the Need

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 kbrown@literacykc.org, or call 816-333-9332.

 

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

Adult Literacy In Today’s Society

On January 12, 1971, Jimmy Carter was sworn in as Governor of Georgia.  He said in his inaugural address: “Our people are our most precious possession. . .Every adult illiterate. . .is an indictment of us all…  the responsibility is our own and our government’s. . .I will not shirk this responsibility.”  Forty-five years later, his noble goal is still being address in every state in the nation.

A quick internet review of materials that discuss adult literacy will show consistent disagreement on how to define the operative terms.   But most writers agree on one practical definition:  A “functionally illiterate” adult is unable to read well enough to deal with everyday requirements of life.  And the inability to read and do math at a fifth-grade level is a well-accepted ballpark definition of functional illiteracy.

In 2009, The U.S. Department of Education did a national assessment, using statistics collected in 2003. It found that some 30 million American adults (about 14%) were functionally illiterate.  And before you make assumptions about the demographics:  75% were born in the United States, 2/3 were under 65; more than 3/4 could see well, and 90% had not been diagnosed with a learning disability.  In December 2014, another study from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy was reported, and it made clear that not much had changed.  The national adult illiteracy rate was still around 14%.

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The U.S. Department of Education findings as of 2014.

Such significant numbers obviously result in an adverse practical effect on the economic, medical, and emotional health of any nation.  People can observe and understand the direct and indirect prices of illiteracy.  What happens to health care if a mother cannot read the antidote instructions on a can of drain cleaner accidentally tasted by her toddler?  What effect is there on the right to vote when the voting instructions require the ability to read well?  What is the result of efforts for full and fair employment when most jobs require not only the ability to read, but also the computer skills to apply online?  What happens when parents cannot provide the educational support needed to be sure their children don’t start behind and stay behind?

Yes, functional illiteracy is something that is present in our world today.   Community resources like Literacy Kansas City and its volunteers, adult programs from public libraries, outreach efforts of local colleges and universities, help from businesses and industries who understand the need for a literate workforce, support from organizations and foundations, and the active participation of individuals who recognize that a literate community is a better community all work to improve literacy rates.   There are many ways to help adults work to their maximum literary potential in your own community.  Students come to Literacy Kansas City with so many special gifts and talents already in their skill set: it then becomes Literacy Kansas City’s goal to take those gifts and talents and use them to develop stronger literacy skills. Take a look at the topics listed on this website, and see how you can get involved!

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New Represent Program Launches 15 Student-Interns Toward Success

“The past is important because it makes me learn.” “The future is about trying to be successful.” “The present is here and I’m going to live it!”

These were thoughts voiced by three of the 15 dynamic, ambitious student-interns in the first cohort of Literacy KC’s new Represent program. The innovative curriculum, which began February 8, was designed by Instructor Phil Denver, Program Development Coordinator Anne Gatschet, and Volunteer Coordinator Kate Brown, to build academic reading and writing skills, career readiness, and confidence in students, ages 16-24.  Represent meets every Monday and Wednesday from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Classes are assisted by five volunteer tutor/coaches, formerly with GEARS and/or Ticket to Read.

“Who would play you in a movie about your life?”

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Represent student-intern groups are joined by five volunteer tutor/coaches.

“Ice-breaker” questions like this were posed for team discussion in the first days of class.  Student-Intern Karahn English responded quickly to this one — Will Smith! Indeed, the outgoing, smart actor is a fitting role model for 16 year old Karahn, one of the first students to enroll in Represent. Karahn was recruited by his enthusiastic cousin Khalif Jones, whose brother Nicodemas Jones has also joined. All attended the Urban Community Leadership Academy, a Kansas City charter middle school forced to close in 2012 due to financial difficulties. The three young men attended a couple of different high schools but adjusting proved challenging.

All three are eager to move forward with their education and work goals. Karahn, whom Phil named “benevolent” in a reading context exercise, is interested in cars and cooking. Nicodemas, whom Phil called “buoyant”, has been interested in technology and construction since a fourth grade metalworking and electrical class. He also loves growing flowers. “Resolute” Khalif is headed for the law profession.

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Represent Instructor Phil Denver is a walking display of creative ideas from the student-interns about how to improve the classroom atmosphere.

All students will be matched with mentors compatible with their career interests. Literacy KC is recruiting mentors now. They will be introduced to the class the week of March 7 and will begin meeting with students once a week for the remainder of the workshop. The mentorship continues with bi-monthly career guidance meetings for a year. Represent will hold dinners through January 2017 for students and mentors to network and socialize. Civic leaders and professionals from diverse backgrounds will make guest appearances in Represent workshops, and give students opportunities for dialogue. Outings to professional and cultural sites are planned around the city.

Part of the Represent workshop is an internship. Students are given assignments that will assist the staff of Literacy KC and other area service agencies. To this end, each cohort of Represent serves on a Young Adults Council, bringing the cultural knowledge of their age group to the planning table to help answer questions about marketing, programming, and recruitment of Kansas City young adults. Student-interns will be paid a stipend of $500 upon completion of the workshop. This offers students the opportunity to earn a letter of recommendation and practice communication skills on the job.

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From left: Represent Student-Interns: Khalif Jones, Nicodemas Jones and Karahn English.

While civic awareness and workforce readiness are the basic themes of Represent, the core practice is literacy. All student-interns must complete 22 hours of Reading Plus outside of class before the 12 week workshop ends on April 27. Students also will write and complete a personal dossier, including a life philosophy statement, resume, cover letter, personality profile, and various writing assignments. The final weeks of the course focus on the financial literacy.

Represent partners with another local workforce readiness program, Culinary Cornerstones, to bring students fresh, healthful breakfast and hot lunch on each class day.  Culinary Cornerstones is a training program in cooking skills developed by Episcopal Community Services. In signature synergistic and community-oriented style, Literacy KC and this innovative culinary program have coordinated an impressive partnership. Huge thanks to Culinary Cornerstones for donating and delivering all meals to Represent.

A second Represent workshop for cohort 2 will begin in June at the same time as Term 2 of Ticket to Read begins.

“If other animals could talk to us, what would they say?”

Nicodemas knew what a bird would say: “I’m ready to fly!”

 

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Literacy Links to Civic Participation

It seems that at least 23 of the 24-hour-news-cycle hours are currently dedicated to political races, disgraces, and other early signs of an election year.  So, you may ask: “What does all this noise have to do with our national problem of illiteracy?”

Quite a lot.

Voting is an important right that all citizens 18 and older are granted. While citizens should always exercise their right to vote, no matter what level of government the election is for, this is an especially important year because of the presidential election. Presidential caucuses for Kansas Republicans and Democrats are on March 5. Missouri presidential preference primaries for all parties are on March 15. There are many differences in the rules for each event, but all have one thing in common. You may not participate unless you are a currently registered voter.  Thanks to our 21st-century technological advances, you can go online to register to vote, or to access a paper copy to mail to your election authority. If you haven’t filled out your voter registration form yet, or even if you already have, take a look at the websites and read through the forms:

www.dss.mo.gov or  www.kssos.org or www.sos.mo.gov

One thing you’ll notice is that they are wordy. And they are worded in ways that can be hard to decipher. For individuals who are low literate, forms like these are a real challenge. If you know your history, you know that literacy tests were used in 20th century America to deliberately disenfranchise and deter particular voters—descendants of slaves, poor people of all colors, immigrants. Assuming there is no longer such intent, today’s voter registration forms have the same unfortunate result for the hundreds of thousands of good citizens who struggle with low literacy. And in our 21st century society, there is the additional barrier of finding and accessing these forms online. A convenience for many of us, but not for individuals who either don’t have digital access, or may not have the knowledge to navigate to the appropriate websites.

sample ballot

Ballots can be complicated, wordy, and intimidating.

At Literacy KC, many of our students are actively involved and deeply connected to their communities. They are caregivers for family and friends, they lead Bible studies at their churches, they are leaders at work. But not all of our students may be registered voters because they lack the digital and literacy skills to fill out the appropriate forms.

Our classes help our students achieve their personal goals, but we also help them grow in confidence and strengthen their literacy skills so they can become active citizens, exercise their right to vote, and have a voice in our democratic process.

Vote-Counts1

 

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Practical Steps Toward Achieving a Dream

A year ago, Tierra Lewis was enrolled in a GED class at an area community college, but feeling far from her dream of starting her own childcare business.

“It just didn’t work for me,” says the mother of a daughter, age 11, and son, 6.

Just by chance, Tierra passed by the Literacy KC offices on Armour Blvd. in mid-town Kansas City and stopped in. Later, she did a Google search for more information about what the nonprofit had to offer her.Tierra Lewis

“Cool beans, I’m for it!” she remembers saying, after reading about Ticket to Read and Family Reading Program classes. Tierra began right away by taking the Digital Life Skills prerequisite in Literacy KC’s computer lab before entering literacy classes.

She was also part of a student group who, with their children, attended Mayor Sly James’ summer reading event at the Sprint Center.

Today, Tierra is a pilot student in a new program called Career Online High School (COHS), a partnership between Literacy KC and both Kansas City and Mid-Continent Public Libraries, along with Gale Cengage Learning of Michigan, a leading educational content company. The flexible online education curriculum is designed to help qualified students earn an accredited high school diploma while gaining real-world career training.

COHS scholarships for 25 students will be awarded this year.  In addition to a high school degree, accredited by AdvancedED/SACS, recipients can work toward earning a career certificate in one of eight fields, designated as high-growth and high-demand. These areas include: Child Care & Education, Certified Protection Officer, Homeland Security, Food and Customer Service Skills, Office Management and more.  Academic coaches will be paired with each student. Biweekly online seminars focusing on 21st century skills and monthly career webinars for job market preparation will help students even further.

Tierra’s first online class is Child Development, toward her certificate in Child Care & Education.  “I’m learning about what’s behind interacting with children and how to actually be a business woman, from marketing to legal issues, for my own business,” she says.

Tierra’s next step will be to take the required courses she needs to obtain a diploma.

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Tierra Lewis at the Career Online High School Launch Reception, 1/22/16

Her goal is to complete the program in nine months, about half the average estimated time. The goal appears to be an achievable one.  Tierra is studying every weekday at Literacy KC from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., getting help from instructors, tutors and staff, as needed. In the evenings and weekends she volunteers as Boy Scout den leader for her son’s troop and for the childcare nursery at her church.

“I want to first run my own business in toddler education and daycare,” she says about her future. “Then I’ll go on to be a social worker and help others.”

http://www.careeronlinehs.gale.com/kc/career-certificates/

http://www.careeronlinehs.gale.com/kc/

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Students Making Change through Their Published Works

 

By Sarah Bell, Literacy KC Instructor

At Literacy KC, I have the pleasure of working directly with our incredible and intelligent students, and I have the fun task of planning interesting and relevant lessons, which often lead to thought-provoking discussions.

One of the units I designed for our past term was on “Race and Identity” and was inspired by a Call for Articles I received from an adult education magazine called The Change Agent. In the publication’s call, adult learners were invited to share their thoughts and experiences for the upcoming issue on racial issues. This topic caught my eye and led to my own unit on Race and Identity, where I gave students the option to submit an essay to The Change Agent. Of my almost 40 students, 15 submitted articles. Some shared personal experiences, some spent hours researching their topic, but all worked hard on their piece. I was proud of all of them, especially since this article was an optional activity.

My pride increased even further, however, when I discovered that THREE of my students’ pieces had been accepted to the magazine! The editor of The Change Agent expressed her delight with the articles, stating that each student provided a unique and valuable perspective to the magazine. Each student will get her piece published in the upcoming March issue of The Change Agent and a $50 stipend. The published students were also recognized at our recent event, “Books, Brains & Boulevard,” attended by about 150 guests.

Below are the three students’ pieces, soon to be published in The Change Agent.

 

Bullying the White KidsGlenda Archibald

Glenda Archibald

When I was ten years old, there was one white family that lived on our block. Then another white family also moved on the block. That was the first time I had a white friend, and we became close.

At the age of thirteen I went to Manual High School. There were only two white kids in the whole school. One of them was in my classroom. I didn’t like the way that the black kids treated him. They threw paper balls at him, hit him, and teased him. I didn’t know why they would do that to him, because he was a nice kid. After school, they would chase him through Gilham Park, calling him names like, “honky,” “white boy,” and “white pig.”

Their bullying used to make me mad and I would tell my mother about it because I didn’t understand why they acted this way. She would always tell me never to be in a category with people like that, because we are not racists, and she did not raise us to be racists, and that we are supposed to love everybody. I would stand next to the white boy after school and I fought for him, standing up to the bullies, both the boys and the girls. I told them to leave him alone because he hadn’t done anything to them and wanted to go to school just like the rest of us. The bullies were scared of me because I had brothers and cousins who would back me up.

When I look back on this, I think they acted this way because they were ignorant about the color he was and didn’t think white kids were good enough to go to that school. But as I got older I thought about that time, and I realized that they had just as much of a right to go to that school as we did. They wanted education, and we wanted education. Why couldn’t we all just get along?

Glenda Archibald grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. She attends school at Literacy Kansas City and Manual Tech and is working on getting her GED. She has four children, thirteen grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.


What I Celebrate About My RaceKarrie Gibson

Karrie Lynn

When people first look at me, they see a white female, but I am much more than that. My great-grandpa was born in Ireland. He moved over to the states when he was older. My great-grandpa left his children in an orphanage. This included my grandpa. My grandpa’s sister was adopted, and my grandpa went to live with his sister’s new family. My grandpa changed his last name from Beggs to Gibson which was his sister’s adopted name.

On my mother’s side, my great-grandpa was half American Indian. He was Cherokee. Both my great-grandpa and grandpa look like American Indians. I didn’t know them very well, but my great-grandpa married my great-grandma, who was white, and they moved to a small town in Missouri.

I consider my family “country folks” because I grew up in a small, rural Missouri town. My nearest neighbor was a mile away, it was pretty secluded. But, what I celebrate about my race is all the cultures that are in my family. Now I live in a city, and I appreciate seeing so many different cultures and the way that other people live. I believe I have that appreciation for different cultures because of my family’s multicultural heritage.

But most of all I celebrate being an individual and not being defined by my race. I celebrate my kindness for everyone I meet no matter their race. I celebrate my personality and how different and unique I am. I celebrate my culture and history and my individuality.

Karrie Lynn is a student at Literacy Kansas City. She plans to attend college and get her nursing degree.

 

My Experiences Growing Up with RacismShirley Lewis

Shirley Lewis

Whites Only

In the 1960s, I visited my grandmother and cousins in Arkansas. One Saturday morning some of us decided to go downtown to see a movie. I felt like the big-shot girl from the city having fun with my cousins from the country, and I was so excited as we entered the theater. After getting our tickets, I automatically ran down to the front to get our seats. My cousins didn’t come with me, so I stood up and looked for them. To my surprise, the usher approached me. He was a large man, wearing a uniform, and he said, “You cannot sit here.” I was stunned, and I said “Why?” Then I saw my cousins beckoning me to come back, but I refused. I had not experienced this kind of thing in my hometown of Kansas City, so I said, “I’m from Kansas City.” The usher’s face turned very red. The look on his face scared me, so I decided to join my cousins. With tears in my eyes, I went with them to the balcony, which was the only place blacks were allowed to sit. I was eight years old when this happened, and I have never forgotten that awful experience.

Light vs. Dark in My Own Family

To my great surprise, I was exposed to racism in my own family. Back then, if your skin was darker and your hair was shorter, you tended to be thought of as less worthy than your counterparts. Girls who had fairer complexions and long hair were treated better, even within their own families. For example, since I was the darker skinned girl, I was usually the one who was asked to wash dishes or clean up, while the other girls just had to look pretty. Due to this treatment, I spent many years feeling that I didn’t deserve better. I did some very extreme things to feel pretty and accepted, such as bringing gifts every time I visited a friend because I didn’t feel like I was good enough on my own. I would also ask my friends’ parents if they needed help cleaning up. I felt like I needed to perform some act of service to be considered a worthwhile individual and to be accepted by others. As I grew older, I gained more confidence, and now I am very proud of my personal appearance. In my 20s, while I was married, a friend invited me to a fashion show and I was overwhelmed with the models who were all shapes, sizes, and colors. Soon after, I started attending a modeling school because I thought if all of these girls can model, so could I. My husband did not approve of me joining the school, but he became very proud of me and my accomplishments. This experience helped change my attitude about myself and I gained more confidence in myself and my appearance.

Racial Tension at School

I went to an all-black school until eighth grade, and then I switched to a predominately white school. I was the only black eighth grader. The white students were not nice to me, due to the fact that they were not used to going to school with black students.  As a result, I became something of a trouble-maker. I tended not to listen in class, talked back to the teacher, and cracked a lot of jokes.

I was helped by a great teacher, Mrs. James. She was a stern gym teacher, and most of the black students, including me, didn’t like her. We disliked her so much, a group of us verbally attacked her one day after school. In my heart, I knew this was wrong, so all of a sudden, I jumped in front of the other kids and said, “This is wrong! We can’t do this!” She showed no fear, and everyone backed down. This made me unpopular with the other kids, but Mrs. James became an advocate for me. She told the other teachers I was a good person and they should give me a chance, in spite of my rude behavior. I became a better, more productive, and nicer student after that. I graduated and was voted best athlete in my senior year. It made a big difference to have an ally. I’m the kind of person who needs people to believe in her, and Mrs. James showed me how to believe in myself.

Shirley Lewis is a 65-year old Kansas City native, who recently decided to focus on herself after years of working and raising two successful children. She started taking classes at Literacy KC in May 2015. She is also a caretaker for her sister, an involved church member, and an active participant in community organizations.

 

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The Real Value of Adult Literacy

One in five American adults cannot access or use the Internet.

So why does it matter anyway if more adults are literate?

This year, we will be looking at ways that our great KC can be even better with more of our city’s adults reading, writing, being hired for family-supporting jobs, becoming leaders in their churches, volunteering at their children’s schools, voting, paying taxes, and overall being more community involved. Future posts will include interviews with employment agencies, major companies, schools and colleges, hospitals, and civic leaders about how adult literacy impacts their efforts in Kansas City.

Nationwide, 36 million adults can’t read better than the average 3rd grader.

Without basic reading, writing, math, and computer skills these Americans are struggling to find jobs, stay healthy, and support their families. Current financial resources, according to the ProLiteracy organization, help only 3 million of these adults to improve their futures and the communities around them.

It’s the Economy

The dire situation affects the entire nation. Low literacy hurts the economy by limiting demand for products and stunting job creation. Low literate adults are also twice as likely to be out of work – raising the high rate of unemployment even higher.

Rising Health Costs

Patients with low literacy skills have a 50 percent increased risk of hospitalization.

Not being able to read can actually be a life or death situation. Nearly half of American adults have difficulty understanding and using health information, according to the Center for Healthcare Strategies, making it difficult to maintain good health.

The Digital Literacy Divide

One in five American adults cannot access or use the Internet. Those without a high school education are among the least likely to have access.

At Literacy KC in 2015, in our Ticket to Read program alone, 256 students participated in twice weekly instruction in reading, writing, basic computer skills, and math. Of that number, 49 students were hired for a new job and 37 received a raise at their current job. In addition, 186 sent their first email and 68 attended a child’s school event. Greater productivity, mitigated under- or unemployment, and increased family attention on education: How can that not help us all?

Sources
ProLiteracy: the US Crisis
The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies
Pew Internet and American Life Project
ProLiteracy Member Statistical Report
The National Assessment of Adult Literacy (Department of Education)

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