Chatham’s Literacy Council offers help with more than just reading, writing and math

Posted 2/7/19

In Chatham County, 13 percent of the population over 25 years of age don’t have a high school degree. Nearly 12 percent of adults live below the poverty lie. What’s a simple solution that will …

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Chatham’s Literacy Council offers help with more than just reading, writing and math

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In Chatham County, 13 percent of the population over 25 years of age don’t have a high school degree. Nearly 12 percent of adults live below the poverty lie. What’s a simple solution that will help solve the problem? According to Vicki Newell, one answer is literacy. Newell, the executive director of the Chatham County Literacy Council, says literacy is a key to “gainful employment, financial and family stability, good health care, and better outcomes for the next generation.” The term “literacy” means an individual’s ability to read, write, and speak in English, compute, and solve problems, at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job, in the family of the individual, and in society. This week, we talk with Newell about the work of the CCLC in Chatham and the challenges the organization faces.

Where’s the greatest need, and how are you and your staff and team of volunteers working specifically in that area to meet the need in Chatham County?

Currently, Chatham Literacy’s largest demand has been Civics and Language Literacy, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and Citizenship in particular. In 2017-18 FY, of our 195 adult learners, 171 students took advantage of the Civics and Language programs, 123 of which advanced their language skills, and 13 obtained their U.S. citizenship.

As with all our programs, Chatham Literacy matches adult learners with trained tutors, provides coursework for the learner, plus provides opportunities to engage. ESOL includes reading, writing, and conversing in English, so learning also includes conversational opportunities.

The number of tutors we have dictates how many adult learners we can serve. We are always in need of volunteers who wish to tutor with us. A volunteer does not need to know how to tutor adults – we provide free training, free educational materials and ongoing support. Our largest need is for volunteers to tutor in and around Siler City.

For some of us, it’s hard to imagine – in this day and age in the United States – a segment of the workforce not being literate. How does that happen? And why is it so critical that this issue be addressed in a substantive and meaningful way?

In Chatham County (per 2016 Census’ American Community Survey), 13.1 percent of the population over 25 years old do not possess a high school degree and 11.7 percent of adults live below the poverty line. Some areas of Chatham County, frankly, have even higher poverty rates, higher underemployment, and lower education attainment – as much as 33 percent.

Here are but a few examples of systemic illiteracy, as outlined in a literacy research report by Pro Literacy,

• Children of parents with low literacy skills have a 72 percent chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves. These children are more likely to get poor grades, display behavioral problems, have high absentee rates, repeat school years, or drop out.

• Of adults with the lowest literacy levels, 43 percent live in poverty, and 70 percent of adult welfare recipients have low literacy levels. There is a clear correlation between more education and higher earnings, and between higher educational scores and higher earnings.

• Every year, one in six young adults drop out of high school. Nearly 30 percent of adults with household incomes at or below the federal poverty line do not have a high school credential.

Tutoring is an essential part of the solutions you’re presenting. Talk about how tutoring works, how you get your tutor volunteers and how you train them...

We seek volunteer tutors through marketing, networking with other non-profits, and word of mouth. Several of our tutors are former adult learners, who wish to give back to the organization, others are retired teachers and volunteers who see the need in Chatham County.

Tutors must complete Chatham Literacy’s interest meeting, orientation, and the one-day, six- hour group tutor training. Tutors should have flexibility in meeting with adult learners at agreed- upon locations and times as provided by Chatham Literacy. The training and training materials are free for both the tutors and adult learners.

Tutors and adult learners then meet on average one time per week for two hours. For both tutors and adult learners, we ask for a one-year commitment.

Expected outcomes for students will vary based on an adult learner’s individual short-term and long-term goals and desires. Tutors tailor instructional lessons in support of their adult learners’ interests. Even given each individual’s goals, it is Chatham Literacy’s goal that all of our adult learners realize some improvement in their reading skills after sixty hours of instruction.

We always have a waiting list of adult learners needing to be matched with tutors. Volunteers interested in being a tutor can contact our office at (919) 742-0578.

Chatham Literacy just celebrated its 10th anniversary. What have been the most significant accomplishments in that decade, and what are the most significant goals for the next 10 years?

Over the past 10 years, more than 25,000 hours of tutoring instruction were provided by 436 volunteer tutors to 813 adults, 73 earning their GED/high school diploma, 67 obtaining a new job or promotion, 108 becoming US citizens, plus 260 adult learners increasing his/her literacy level by three grades.

In the upcoming year, we are conducting a comprehensive literacy needs assessment to ensure our services are correctly aligned with the needs of the county. At this time, we expect Traditional Literacy, basic and high school education, to remain a core program. Civics and Citizenship will continue to be in strong demand. And we anticipate the expansion of our Life Skills Literacy program. A pilot on financial literacy was successfully completed, and will most likely be expanded.

We wish to strengthen and expand the diversity of our targeted client base. We also wish to enhance how we work with local agencies to most efficiently and effectively serve Chatham County families. Our growth goals include closer collaboration with the community college, public schools, businesses, and other partners to expand services. The needs assessment will help guide these efforts.

Chatham has a high Latino population – what does that mean for your ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) program?

As noted above, ESOL is a highly demanded service. Having a command of English is essential in both daily activities and advancing in education and in the labor force. In many instances, this program serves as a launching pad for further learning. Many adult learners first come to Chatham Literacy to learn to speak, write, and converse in English. This allows them to assist their children with school work, navigating around the towns and county, banking, grocery shopping – being part of the community.

Through this program, adult learners build both competence and confidence. Quite a few then go on to additional programs offered by both Chatham Literacy and the local Central Carolina Community College. Sometimes through Adult Basic and Secondary Education courses aiming towards a certificate or GED, or through vocational and technical programs, like nursing, machine operations, welding and so forth. Some even open their own businesses, like bakery services.

Please consider becoming involved with Chatham Literacy. Our first and foremost need is for volunteer tutors. If you cannot tutor at this time, perhaps you could provide support by participating in one of Chatham Literacy’s upcoming fundraisers in April. On April 10, enjoy lunch and a presentation at the Governors Club by the fantastic Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun OR purchase a raffle ticket for a 1 in 250 chance to win a trip for two to Florence, Italy -- the heart of Tuscany! Drawing held on April 10, 2019. Both of these fundraisers are $100, All proceeds help fund tutoring services to adults.

For more information, visit > events or call 919-214-1269.


Chatham Literacy’s story

Chatham Literacy was started as a 501(c)(3) by four Siler City residents in 1988. Over time, the nonprofit became inactive until 2008 when it was re-organized into the agency we are today. The year 2018 celebrated 10 years of enhancing adult literacy in Chatham County. Last year in FY 2017-18, Chatham Literacy served 195 adult learners, with 109 volunteer tutors dedicating over 6,900 hours to the effort. In this effort, Chatham Literacy focuses on three major initiatives:

Traditional Literacy. Chatham Literacy provides free one-on-one tutoring services to help adults improve their basic education in reading, writing and math. We also offer tutoring services to adults preparing for a high school equivalency diploma (GED), a vocational program, and/or advancement in the workplace.

Civics and Language Literacy. Many of our adult learners are from Central and South America. Others are from Europe, Asia, and Africa. Tutoring is available to these adults who want to learn to read, write, speak, and comprehend English (English for Speakers of Other Languages). For those with the goal of becoming U.S. citizens, Chatham Literacy provides a unique Citizenship and Civics Education class that helps prepare individuals for the naturalization test and interview and Life Skills Literacy.

Life Skills. Literacy Life skills prepare adults for the expectations and norms in today’s society and workplace. Chatham Literacy offers individualized tutoring and workshops within the

Examples of our efforts over the past 10 years can be found in our most recent annual report, which can be found at content/uploads/2018/10/ChathamLiteracyAnnualReport2018_6pgs.pdf


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