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What is International Literacy Day?

International Literacy Day.png

This year marks the 50th anniversary of International Literacy Day and Literacy KC is so excited to celebrate this day with the rest of the world. International Literacy Day 2016 celebrates and honors the past five decades of national and international engagement, efforts and progress made to increase literacy rates around the world. It also addresses current challenges and looks to innovative solutions to further boost literacy in the future.

In 1966, UNESCO officially proclaimed September 8th International Literacy Day to actively mobilize the international community and to promote literacy as an instrument to empower individuals, communities and societies.

Now International Literacy Day is celebrated worldwide, bringing together governments, multi- and bilateral organizations, NGOs, private sectors, communities, teachers, learners and experts in the field. This year the focus is on innovation.

According to UNESCO, over 757 million adults worldwide still lack basic reading and writing skills. Of the 757 million low-literate adults, over two thirds of them are women. While literacy rates have steadily increased over the past 50 years, these statistics help to show that there is still work to be done. Below are two graphs that compare youth literacy statistics from 1985 and 2015, showing a visible increase in literacy rates throughout the 20 year span.


“The world has changed since 1966 – but our determination to provide every woman and man with the skills, capacities and opportunities to become everything they wish, in dignity and respect, remains as firm as ever. Literacy is a foundation to build a more sustainable future for all”  

-UNESCO Director General

While Literacy KC focuses its resources on the Kansas City community, where there are an estimated 225,000 low-literate adults, adults all over the country and the world continue require assistance to improve their literacy skills. Literacy KC is proud to be a welcoming and safe community resource for Kansas City area adults to improve their reading, writing, math and digital skills. We are excited to continue to deliver an innovative, research-based classroom model of instruction as we strive to create a future where there is literacy for all.

From all of us at Literacy KC, we wish you a Happy International Literacy Day!

Are you looking for a way to help celebrate National Literacy Month with Literacy KC? Here are some ways that you can make a difference with us:

  • Get tickets for our annual Literacy For All Luncheon on Friday, September 16th! This event will give you the chance to hear from our guest speakers Jeffri Chadiha, a senior columnist for NFL.com and the NFL Network, and Tom Bloch, former H&R Block CEO and Co-Founder of University Academy. This fundraiser that helps to support Literacy KC and is a great way to connect with other literacy advocates in the community!
  • Become a volunteer with us! Email kbrown@literacykc.org or call (816) 333-9332 for more information.
  • Make a financial commitment to support Literacy KC  as we continue to be an accessible resource for adults that require literacy assistance in the Kansas City Community.





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Filed under For Students, For Tutors, For Volunteers, In The News, Uncategorized

The 30 Year History of Literacy KC


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.


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.


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.*


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

How to Start a Little Free Library

You’ve seen them. The cute, tinier than tiny houses staked at the curb in front of homes, churches, libraries, stores and, in some cities, even zoos. Growing at a faster rate than even HGTV’s “Tiny House Nation” spews out reruns, the Little Free Library is a novel (get it?) way to make reading fun, easy and FREE for more adults and children in all kinds of neighborhoods.

You see, each little house is stuffed with a variety of hardback and paperback books, donated by readers from around the neighborhood. At a recent visit to a nearby Little Free Library, book titles ranged from “Cosmic Enigmas” to “Baby Fever” to “Air Dance Iguanas.” Visitors are invited to take a book and return it, or donate a new one.


Todd Bol designed and constructed the first little free library with free books in Hudson, WI, in memory of his mother, a devoted teacher and avid reader.



So using a Little Free Library is easy, but how about starting one? The website, www.littlefreelibrary.org, will help and inspire you. The organization began nine years ago when Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, built a memorial tribute to his mother, a teacher who loved to read. His structure was a model of a charming one-room schoolhouse, which he filled with books, and put on a post in his front yard. The neighborhood response was so enthusiastic that he started building and giving away more little houses, each with a sign that read FREE BOOKS.

When Todd joined forces with Rick Brooks, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor, the concept began to grow into a movement. By 2010, the mission of the little houses had emerged: to exchange good books and bring people together.  People started calling them “Little Free Libraries.” The goal became to build 2,510 Little Free Libraries – as many libraries as philanthropist Andrew Carnegie supported at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. In May 2012, Little Free Library was officially established as a Wisconsin nonprofit corporation and three months later the initial goal was met.

Growing ever since, by this May the total number of Little Free Libraries in the world reached 40,000! About 30 of those are in Kansas City, Missouri, plus several more on the Kansas side. But with Little Free Library’s goal of 100,000 by 2017, there’s plenty of room for more. Building one is an ideal way to recognize a person or group that has been significant in spreading the joys of reading, learning and literacy.


This is the closest Little Free Library to the Literacy KC office. It is located at 3775 Washington Street, KC, MO, and is in need of book donations!

The following tips are highlights of the process. For detailed instructions, be sure to visit www.littlefreelibrary.org where you can also sign up for their Insider’s Newsletter.

  1. Identify a location and a steward – someone who promotes and takes care of the library. The location should be approved by your city. Two years ago, a few Kansas suburban towns, including Leawood and Fairway, took issue with the new structures, but have since added or modified ordinances allowing a Little Free Library to be built according to criteria. (See below about criteria in Fairway, KS.)
  2. Get a library. You can build your own or find someone to build it for you. The Little Free Library website offers resources for both. Local carpenters, artists, hardware stores, scout troops, and schools are often enthusiastic about doing such a project.
  3. Register your library. This allows you to legally use the name Little Free Library. If you purchase the library through the online catalog, it will automatically be registered. Registration also provides several other attractive features including access to the private Facebook group to network with thousands of fellow stewards.
  4. Build support. Find people who love to read and want to strengthen their community. Connect with schools, librarians and neighborhood associations. A local PR firm might donate time to promote your library. You can also start a Facebook page or Instagram account specifically for the library if you are willing to update it regularly. All of these efforts will help you keep well stocked with books.
  5. Add your library to the world map. Once you have installed your library, be sure to hold a grand opening ceremony and invite all of friends and neighbors! When you add the library to the website’s world map, anyone can easily find your library and you will have increased the total number worldwide and helped spread the joy of reading.

Free Reading in Kansas

While Little Free Libraries have flourished throughout Kansas City, MO, just a handful exists on the “Free Stater” side.  In 2014, a nine-year-old Leawood, KS boy’s Little Free Library was ordered by the city to be removed from his front yard. After hearing the boy speak, the City Council amended its ordinance restricting detached structures. About the same time, Fairway, KS, added the following new criteria allowing Little Free Libraries to be built in private yards:

  • Must be permanently fixed in ground on a buried post
  • Must not be placed in the public setback and must be 10-12 feet back from curb
  • Cannot be more than 5 feet in height or more than 3 cubic feet in volume
  • Must not obscure visibility or block traffic
  • Needs to be maintained at all times or will be removed

Have you started a little free library in your neighborhood? Send a picture of it to us at Literacy KC! Email kderohanian@literacykc.org to get your library featured on our social media!

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