In the fall of 1995, Evelyn Owen, a member of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Monroe, encouraged her fellow church women to provide literacy tutoring for Union County’s illiterate and low-literate adult population. Several St. Luke’s members had prior experience with the Laubach method for teaching adults to read, and Union Literacy Volunteers was formed.
A $500 grant through the Lutheran Church Women provided materials to get tutoring underway. Bev Voelzow led tutor training sessions, and the group branched out to include English as a Second Language instruction. By October 1997, the demand for services had surpassed the capabilities of volunteers including Linda Moyer.
About the same time, Nancy Noles, then the Newspapers in Education Coordinator for The Enquirer-Journal (Monroe), was looking for ways to promote adult literacy, and Win Baker was on assignment from Union West Rotary Club to learn about adult literacy needs in Union County. Baker, Noles, and Moyer planned a series of Literacy Summits, inviting participants from the public and private sector. A unified effort to address the issue countywide was started, and the Literacy Council of Union County was formed.
The Board of Directors met for the first time on March 31, 1998, with Win Baker elected chairperson. A grant from the Foundation for the Carolinas allowed us to hire an executive director, and in November, 1998 Linda Moyer accepted that position. As the Council grew, so did our staffing needs with new positions formed over the years. Volunteer trainer Kelly Helms Norton began leading our training program in 2001 and became a ProLiteracy Certified Trainer.
The Adult Literacy Center The Council had a home at South Piedmont Community College until May 2007 when we established the Adult Literacy Center in historic downtown Monroe. We became a United Way of Central Carolinas member agency in July 2001. Other financial support has come from many sources including federal Workforce Investment Act grant funds (distributed by the N.C. Community College System), the Foundation for the Carolinas, UPS, Dollar General, Wal-Mart, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Sisters of Mercy of North Carolina Foundation, and many others. IBM has outfitted our computer lab, which has grown over time.
Valuable partnerships have been formed with the Union County Public Libraries, churches, and businesses that allow our tutors and students to meet at various safe, convenient locations throughout the county. In 2007 a new partnership was formed with Union County Public Schools, enabling us to bring convenient adult literacy services to parents of children, particularly those at Title I schools, in an effort to break the cycle of illiteracy within families. Since 2013 the Council has provided referral brochures to principals and counselors so they are equipped to make referrals for parents.
Our core method of instruction is one-on-one tutoring, which provides adult learners with the focused attention necessary to learn to read. In 2003 we added Small Group Instruction for immigrant adults to gain the English communication skills they need in the short-run while simultaneously addressing their long-term reading goals.
In 2005 we were asked to train literate inmates to tutor fellow inmates with low literacy skills at Brown Creek Correctional Institute in Anson County. This program remains active in 2014.We hope that the ability to read and write will help these men forge a new life when they leave the penal institution and make a remarkable difference in their lives.
In January 2007 we successfully completed the 16 standards to become an accredited affiliate of ProLiteracy America. National accreditation is the culmination of years of sound practices and dedicated service on the part of many. The Council was re-accredited in 2012.
In 2008, through grant funds, we launched a Compute to Literacy project to give our students access to technology as well as a Health Literacy initiative to help students gain important information on health and well-being. Now, the computer lab has 12 workstations. Health is a frequent topic for workshops and in small groups.
Small Groups and Workshops Expand
Linda Moyer retired in February 2011, and Kelly Helms Norton, with her accumulated knowledge of the Literacy Council and adult literacy issues in general, was chosen to succeed her. Under Kelly’s leadership we increased our emphasis on learner-centered instruction to help each student meet his or her reading and life skill goals. New student workshops were introduced to address such topics as diabetes, nutrition, the election process, and how to call 911. Small group instruction was expanded and Literacy Basics began to teach introductory language concepts such as greetings, weather and use of money to new ESL students before they’re matched with a tutor.
Kelly renewed our commitment to tutors by increasing the frequency of the volunteer orientation program (Literacy Council 101) and by introducing a mentoring program for experienced tutors to coach new tutors.Kelly also teamed with board members Julie Andreacola and Caroline Cate to develop a new fundraiser. Chocoholic Frolic, held in February, is a scrumptious tasting event that brings together vendors and festive partygoers to generate awareness of adult literacy needs and raise program funding.
Fifteen Years of Service In 2012 the Literacy Council celebrated 15 years of making a difference in the lives of our students in Union County.This was the same year that the Council hosted the 15th Annual Adult Spelling Bee as a signature fundraiser. Over the years Bingo and Scrabble events attracted aficionados, but the Bee has been the signature event for churches, civic clubs and businesses to compete in friendly competition to win the coveted Beatrice prize. Kelly retired from her leadership service in 2013. .
Jamie Underwood joined the Literacy Council in June 2013 as Executive Director. She has 10 years of experience in the non-profit sector with grant writing, client services, and fund development. With an expanding network of trained volunteers, we anticipate providing many more adults the opportunity to learn to read, write, speak and understand English. Janey Doerner, on staff for 7 ½ years, leads the Adult Basic Education program and Doralisa Pellane, on staff for 6 ½ years, leads the ESL program. Two part-time staff members, Brenda and Elizabeth, round out the staff and help to provide exceptional service to our students and tutors.
For 2014, Helen Kimbrough, a children’s author, leads the Board of Directors as its chair. There are 12 board members.