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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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How Do Our Volunteers Help Literacy KC?

by Kate Brown, Volunteer & Community Outreach Coordinator

As the staff member responsible for coordinating our volunteer efforts, I get a front row seat each day to the ways volunteers are helping Literacy KC work toward our mission of Literacy for All. Our volunteers are involved with many different aspects of the organization (see chart below), ranging from tutoring in our classes and helping in the computer lab to cutting flashcards and scanning student files. It is truly inspiring to come into work each day and watch as they interact with students and cheer them along as they achieve their educational goals.

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A breakdown of the services provided by Literacy KC volunteers.

The volunteers at Literacy KC are making HUGE contributions to our organization. In the last fiscal year, Literacy KC had over 8,100 volunteer hours served! According to The Independent Sector’s rates for volunteer time, this is equivalent to over $190,000 worth of work. In terms of employees, our volunteers log more hours than 5 full-time workers would. These numbers mean a great deal to Literacy KC and they reinforce what we already know: that our volunteers are some of the most generous and dedicated in Kansas City. Volunteers are an integral part of our team and without them we would be unable to offer the depth of services that our students need and deserve. From all of us at Literacy KC, we’d like to say thank you to our amazing volunteers!

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Carrie, Clara & Jane are referred  to as “The Librarians” as they are commonly tasked with arranging our library.

Want to join the fun and volunteer with Literacy KC? Contact Kate Brown at kbrown@literacykc.org,visit literacykc.org, or call our office at (816)333-9332.

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Summer REPRESENT Term Comes to an End

 

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The REPRESENT Class photo!

Seeking their Higher Purpose, the REPRESENT summer class completes its 8-week program today, July 28th, in literacy, visual symbology, personal finances, and job success.

While each of the five students will continue their studies in August at MCC-Penn Valley community college, their career goals vary widely:

Daniel’s plans include studying nutrition at Penn Valley and earning a personal training certificate.

Damika aims to become a registered nurse helping Alzheimer’s patients.

DeVonte, who will first complete the HiSET program, is interested in studying acting and wrestling.

Susannah plans to study voice and theatre at UMKC after completing her Associate Degree at Penn Valley.

Vyolla’s goal is to transfer to Stephens College after Penn Valley to study fashion design.

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Mentors, Coaches & Students relaxing on the last day of class with a pizza party.

Each REPRESENT student will meet with individual mentors on a regular basis as they undertake their next chapter in reaching their dreams.

As is his tradition, Instructor Phil Denver taught from the following poem, which never fails to arouse empathy:

Dreams By Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

We wish these five Star Students the very best success in achieving their dreams! To learn more, visit literacykc.org or call (816)333-9332.

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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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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.

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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.

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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

 

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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!

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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.

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