History of The Literacy Council
In the fall of 1995, Evelyn Owen, a member of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Monroe, encouraged her fellow church women to become involved with providing literacy tutoring for Union County’s illiterate and low literate adult population. With the help of other women in the congregation, Owen organized a Laubach training session which was held in January 1996. The training was open to the public, and about 10 volunteer tutors were trained. Several others at St. Luke’s had prior experience tutoring adults using the Laubach method, including Bev Voelzow and Linda Moyer; thus Union Literacy Volunteers (ULV) was formed.
One of the founders, Vicki Fink, applied for and received a $500 grant through the Lutheran Church Women to order materials to get tutoring underway. The group held several more tutor training sessions and branched out to include English as a Second Language instruction as well as Adult Basic Education. Owen, Voelzow, and Moyer ran ULV until October 1997 when the demand for services had surpassed the capabilities of three volunteers.
About the same time, Moyer became better acquainted with Nancy Noles, then the Monroe Enquirer Journal’s Newspapers in Education Coordinator. At the same time Win Baker had undertaken an assignment from Union West Rotary Club to learn about adult literacy needs in Union County. Baker initiated a collaborative effort with Noles and Moyer that resulted in three literacy summits held at the Union County Chamber of Commerce in January and March of 1998. Summit participants from the public and private sector realized that there was a need for a literacy council and that a unified effort was essential to meet the needs that had been demonstrated countywide; thus the Literacy Council of Union County was formed.
The Council’s Board of Directors met for the first time on March 31, 1998 and Win Baker was elected chairperson. In November, 1998 Linda Moyer accepted the position of Executive Director, and in March, 2000 we added a part-time, bilingual position to assist with interpretation. A part-time assistant was hired in November 2000, and in October 2001 we hired a part-time data clerk. As the Council grew, so did our staffing needs with these positions being expanded and new positions formed over the years. Volunteer trainer Kelly Norton joined our efforts in 2001, leading all aspects of our training program.
The local community college, UTEC, was a key participant in the summits, and donated office space at its old Belk building site. In 2000 the Council moved with the newly formed South Piedmont Community College to its campus on Old Charlotte Highway where we were provided space for a computer lab, tutoring rooms, and offices. In May, 2007 we established our own stand-alone center for adult literacy services in historic downtown Monroe. This facility is being used for our training workshops, computer lab, and tutoring sessions as well as staff offices.
We became a United Way of Central Carolinas member agency in July 2001. United Way provides significant financial support and visibility we would not otherwise have. Other financial support has come from many sources including federal Workforce Investment Act grant funds, the Foundation for the Carolinas, UPS, Dollar General, Wal-Mart, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and many others. IBM has outfitted our computer lab which has grown over time from one unit to eight. Additionally, valuable partnerships have been formed with the Union County Public Libraries, churches, and businesses that allow our tutors and students to meet at various locations throughout the county. In 2007 a new partnership was formed with the Union County Public Schools – bringing convenient adult literacy services to parents of children, particularly those at Title I schools, in an effort to break the cycle of illiteracy that sometimes exists within families.
The Council’s signature fundraising event – our annual Adult Spelling Bee – has been held every spring since 1999 and is a testament to the community’s support of our program. Our annual SCRABBLE® fundraising effort is in its infancy but promises to be yet another avenue by which individuals and groups can support literacy efforts in Union County.
Our core method of instruction has always been one-on-one tutoring which provides adult learners with the focused attention necessary to make measurable reading gains. However, in 2003 we added Small Group Instruction to provide a way for immigrant adults to gain the English communication skills they need in the short-run while simultaneously addressing their long-term reading goals.
During 2006 we established a peer tutoring program at Brown Creek and Lanesboro prisons in Anson County whereby literate inmates are being trained to tutor fellow inmates with low literacy skills. We hope that the ability to read and write will help them forge a new life when they leave the penal institution. If they do, we will have made a remarkable difference in their life.
In January, 2007 our dream of ProLiteracy Accreditation became a reality. This is the equivalent of the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” in the world of adult literacy and the culmination of years of dedicated service on the part of many.
Since inception the Council has trained over 500 volunteer tutors and provided instruction to nearly 1000 adult learners. It is reported that we have grown faster than any other community-based literacy organization in the history of North Carolina, yet we realize the best still lies ahead as we continue our mission to improve the quality of life in our community and expand individual potential by teaching adults to read, write, speak, and understand the English language.