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

Spotlight: Literacy KC’s Digital Inclusion Fellow

 

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Sarah Bell, Literacy KC’s Digital Inclusion Fellow, pictured with the other 21 Digital Inclusion Fellows throughout the country.

I just returned from a week-long orientation in Portland, Oregon for Year 2 of the national Digital Inclusion Fellowship, where we, the 22 Fellows, heard from experts in the field of digital inclusion and learned best practices for designing and implementing digital literacy programs. Literacy KC was chosen for the second consecutive year to host one of only 22 Digital Inclusion Fellows across the country. This Fellowship, funded by Google Fiber, places Fellows in host organizations in 11 cities to address how to bridge the digital divide: helping individuals who are not digitally connected, whether that means access to quality Internet, a working and relevant device, or the skills and knowledge to use technology.

From my work with digital inclusion the past 6 months, I have seen the importance of including digital skills and training in our conversations about literacy. Our 21st-century society is technology-driven, which means having internet access and digital skills is a necessity, not merely a luxury. For our students to fully participate in economic and educational opportunities, digital literacy needs to be part of what we offer and teach. Literacy KC has made this an organizational priority, emphasizing that digital is one of the facets of literacy, and it is also starting to be part of discussions on a national level.

These national discussions about incorporating digital training into adult literacy curriculum is important because our students need access to all aspects of educational and economic participation. As you can see from the chart below, more and more people are recognizing the importance of having home broadband, especially within the context of career opportunities and learning.

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With so many things going online today–including job applications, healthcare, school updates, government forms, etc.–it is becoming vitally important that we bridge this digital divide so that no one gets left behind. This includes our students at Literacy KC. As I look ahead to the upcoming year, I am focusing my attention on four areas. My first goal is to better integrate digital skills and training into all aspects of our programming. This primarily includes our Ticket to Read curriculum, making digital skills an integral part of what we teach in the classroom. I will also be providing some specific digital skills training, based on feedback and input from students to ensure we are offering what they need and want. In order to offer a wide array of classes and assistance to our students, I will be developing a Train-the-Trainer program, where I will train volunteers to help carry out these digital programs. Literacy KC could not run without our awesome volunteers, and I am confident I will be able to grow our digital program because of our eager and helpful volunteers. Finally, I will be building our external partnerships within the context of digital inclusion. This will be on both a local scale, with our KC Digital Inclusion Coalition, and on a national scale, in both the context of general digital inclusion initiatives and with adult literacy specifically.

Want to get involved with Literacy KC? Visit literacykc.org or call (816)333-9332 or email Sarah Bell at sbell@literacykc.org

 

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Literacy Kansas City Chosen as Digital Inclusion Fellow City Host For A Second Straight Year

 

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Great news! Literacy Kansas City has been selected for the second straight year as a City Host for The Nonprofit Technology Network’s (NTEN) Digital Inclusion Fellowship!

Last year, NTEN announced its first ever Digital Inclusion Fellowship (DIF), in partnership with Google Fiber, which Literacy Kansas City was also chosen for. In an effort to increase digital literacy and broadband adoption in digitally divided communities, NTEN placed 16 Fellows in locally-based organizations in 8 cities across the country.

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Literacy Kansas City is proud to be one of the few organizations in the country to be selected to host a Digital Inclusion Fellowship! (Photo Source: Google Fiber)

This year, Kansas City is one of the now eleven cities to host a Fellow. Literacy Kansas City is honored to be chosen to host one of the 22 total Fellows in the country and excited to continue to develop our digital literacy program!

“NTEN’s Digital Inclusion Fellowship is a tremendous opportunity not only for our organization, but our local community as well,” said Gillian Helm, Executive Director. “We’re committed to helping improve adult digital literacy across the Kansas City area and look forward to welcoming our future Fellow this summer.”

“At NTEN, we see the impact that having a digitally engaged community can have on social impact work and want to be sure that every nonprofit and community based organization understands how to be part of the digital world and bring their communities along with them,” said Amy Sample Ward, CEO of NTEN.

You can apply today to be Literacy Kansas City’s Fellow! Applications are now open and interviews may be scheduled on a rolling basis during the application period. Fellow selection may happen before the application’s close date, which is May 13th, so we encourage you to apply today! You can learn more about the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, the available Fellow positions, and how to apply here.

In addition to adult literacy organizations (7 Fellows) like Literacy Kansas City, fellows will also be hosted by libraries (7 Fellows), organizations that provide affordable housing (3 Fellows), and other organizations that specialize in digital inclusion (5 Fellows). All chosen fellows will attend a week long orientation program where they’ll be trained on digital literacy best practices and work to develop leadership skills.

“As the lead sponsor, Google Fiber will again contribute more than $1 million to help administer the fellowship. Our current fellows have reached thousands of people lacking internet access, trained hundreds of volunteers, and received positive feedback from community members. And with the help of NTEN, we hope to continue our progress” said Andrew Bentley, Digital Inclusion Program Manager, Google Fiber.

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One of our digital literacy class students working to improve his typing skills in Literacy Kansas City’s computer lab.

Throughout the past year, our current Digital Inclusion Fellow, Sarah Bell, has worked with students to incorporate digital activities into Literacy Kansas City’s classes. Our digital literacy program focuses on helping our students feel more comfortable using computers and associated digital resources in order to enhance their literacy skills.

“In the 21st century, it is impossible to talk about literacy without mentioning the digital component. Many of the discussions about bridging the digital divide focuses on alleviating barriers, helping those individuals who cannot afford the Internet or a device or who do not have the necessary digital skills to navigate. But what about those individuals who also have low literacy as a barrier? For them, technology can be one more thing that has a lot of words and letters that they don’t have the skills to read, or the confidence to navigate. However, technology can also be a useful tool, and that’s what we are teaching our students here. I believe as we help students break down both sets of barriers, reading/writing and digital, we will see their confidence rise in all areas of literacy” said Sarah Bell, Literacy Kansas City Instructor & Digital Inclusion Fellow.

 

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