Tag Archives: AmeriCorps VISTA

The 30 Year History of Literacy KC

DSC_0006

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.

Print

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.*

2 Comments

Filed under AmeriCorps VISTA, COHS, Community Partners, Corporate Spelling Bee, For Students, For Tutors, For Volunteers, Fundraisers, Programs & Services, Uncategorized

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:

 

ccf

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

 

connecting 4 good

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

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

For More Information or To Apply: https://my.americorps.gov/mp/listing/viewListing.do?id=68489&fromSearch=true

 

kcdd-logo

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

 

mattie-rhodes

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

 

jf

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.

Leave a comment

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

A Staff Member’s View of Literacy KC

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

Rachel Henderson and Kim Rogers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel-Pic-300x300

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

 

Leave a comment

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

What is it Like to Dedicate a Year of Your Life to Literacy?

In this video interview, our AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers, Lindsey Clark and Will Orlowski, share their experience as Volunteers In Service To America devoted to helping, organizing, writing, photographing, listening, sharing, being passionate about our students, and building the capacity of Literacy Kansas City. Please take a few minutes to watch and leave comments. Your encouragement will be greatly appreciated!

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under AmeriCorps VISTA, Community Partners, For Students, For Tutors, For Volunteers, Understanding the Need

Introducing Will Orlowski, AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer & Ticket to Read Program Coordinator

The fall session of Literacy KC’s Ticket to Read (TTR) classes began September 8. As the AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer assigned to coordinate this program for a year, I’m looking forward to sharing my viewpoint about classes, students, events, and the personal stories of success and accomplishment the TTR program is designed to help achieve. It is essential to me that we maintain the individuality of each of our students, so I will be authoring several of the upcoming Student Stories.

My first two weeks as a VISTA have been quite eventful! The process of joining the staff was impressively efficient for the amount of information that had to be handled in a short period of time. My co-VISTA, Lindsey Clark, and I jumped right into the enrollment process, both for new and returning students. This involved a good deal of preparation, both of physical materials (tests, pencils, information handouts) and online data entry, but the payoff was absolutely worth all our efforts. Over the course of the first week I met more than one hundred truly incredible people from all over Kansas City eager to improve their literacy. I met old married couples who had committed themselves to learning to read better together; young men determined to be outstanding fathers; one man very recently from Liberia and his fantastic (and energetic) wife; a dyslexic woman with an inspirational level of confidence despite her past setbacks; and so many more wonderful people.

Our second week featured the beginning of the new students’ Digital Life Skills (DLS) classes. A major aspect of TTR is the promotion of digital literacy, as job success relies heavily on the ability to use and interact with the Internet. The DLS classes, held in our computer lab (generously donated to us by Google Fiber), gave me the first opportunity to meet many of our new students in a group educational setting. We also continued to reach out to several of our returning students; these were people who had been valuable members of our classes and community, and we were lucky enough to re-enroll many of them, ensuring their continued success (and making the LKC staff very happy!).

As the term moves into full swing, my role as TTR program coordinator will begin to take on more of the responsibilities I’ve been tasked with as a VISTA. Student Coordinator Emily Hane and I have already discussed several long-term goals for my year here, which include the streamlining of our data-entry process (particularly of students’ goals) and the inclusion of more start dates for classes throughout the term, giving students more flexible scheduling. Now that fall classes have begun, I will be able to work directly with both executives and instructors to maximize the potential of the Ticket to Read program. Keep reading here weekly, because TTR is headed to some exciting places!

WOrlowski

Will Orlowski, AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer

Will Orlowski joined Literacy Kansas City in August 2015 as an Americorps VISTA. As a VISTA (Volunteer In Service to America) Will is tasked with combating poverty and expanding Literacy Kansas City’s capacity to serve the Kansas City community.  Prior to joining Literacy Kansas City, Will graduated with a BA in English Creative Writing from the University of Kansas. He writes poetry and fiction, and has lived in Denver, Houston, New York, Oklahoma City, Lawrence, and Kansas City. Will is an accomplished writer and has over six years of experience in customer service. He was also the Education Officer of his music fraternity, Phi Mu Alpha, for three years while at KU.  Will is an avid sports fan, a passionate Jayhawk, a lover of all things literacy, and truly excited to be a part of Literacy Kansas City.

2 Comments

Filed under Programs & Services