CH@T: One in five Chatham adults lack basic literacy skills. Chatham Literacy works to teach, enhance and more.

Posted 3/18/21

Throughout the pandemic, Chatham Literacy’s staff and volunteer tutors have been working remotely to help residents gain a variety of life skills. This week, we speak with Vicki Newell about the …

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CH@T: One in five Chatham adults lack basic literacy skills. Chatham Literacy works to teach, enhance and more.

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Throughout the pandemic, Chatham Literacy’s staff and volunteer tutors have been working remotely to help residents gain a variety of life skills. This week, we speak with Vicki Newell about the work and about the organization’s upcoming fundraising event.

Newell has been the executive director of Chatham County Literacy Council since 2011 and was tutor coordinator for two years before that. While staying home for six years to raise her three sons, she volunteered on the boards of Family Violence and Rape Crisis Services and the PTA of Pittsboro Elementary School. Newell has a master’s degree in health communication from Johns Hopkins University and worked for six years as the health specialist with the Smart Start Initiative at the state and Chatham County levels. A former member of the Peace Corps, she speaks French and Tshiluba. You can reach her at 919-542-6424 or at vicki@chathamliteracy.org.

Since we last checked in with you in July, you’ve had a major event (“No Show” Fall for Literacy) in September. How’d that go?

As you know, the event we held last fall was a “phantom” event featuring author Alan Gurganus. We sent Gurganus’ Book, “A Fool for Christmas,” to 74 participants and asked that they read the short work in the comfort of their own home or hold a small or virtual get-together with friends. Thanks to everyone who participated in this “no participation” event, we raised $15,000 for our programs! The support from our community is truly something to behold. It is such support that fuels our agency.

A special thanks to the businesses that sponsored our event: Mountaire Farms, Wren Foundation, Galloway Ridge at Fearrington, Restoration Systems, Carolina Meadows, Reynolds & Associates, Edward Jones, and Chatham Park.

You also partnered with the Chatham EDC on a set of enhanced job skills courses for local business professionals. Tell us about the results from that.

In collaboration with Central Carolina Community College’s N.C. Works Career Center and the Chatham Economic Development Corporation, last July we introduced a work skills enhancement workshop called “Ready, Success, Grow!” In addition, we developed another workshop to help adults with pre-employability and online interviewing skills. These workshops were delivered online via Zoom to 18 participants. We are very proud that two of the participants obtained a job within two months of completing the workshop, earning them a refurbished laptop from us for achieving a long-term goal. These skill-building workshops will remain among Chatham Literacy’s offerings, which we will continue to deliver online and in-person when it’s safe to do so.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been with us for a year now. What have you seen and experienced through the work of Chatham Literacy?

Last March, when we stopped in-person tutoring services, none of us knew how to tutor via distance learning (our learners, tutors and staff). We only knew that we had to make the transition, so learn it we did. (I’m feeling a little Yoda, I am!)

I’m glad we documented all of our journey because it now seems as if distance learning has always been a teaching option for us. More than 60% of our learners have made the transition with us as well as 46% of our tutors; the remaining learners and tutors await the return of in-person tutoring.

Throughout the pandemic, we continued to provide tutoring services in reading, writing, and math; GED preparation; basic computer skills; workforce enhancement; English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and citizenship preparation.

Distance learning seems to be here to stay. For some of our learners, remote instruction allows them to learn from home when their busy schedule would not otherwise accommodate tutoring whether because of their work schedule, the need for child care, the need to care for family members, or the lack of transportation.

During this past year, our learners enhanced their digital literacy skills, helping them to be a better support for their children while they learned from home. Because of their interaction with our great volunteer tutors, most adult learners are now able to better navigate public support systems (and a good thing too) since many systems transitioned to online applications and appointments. Our learners also improved their job skills and became or remained marketable. I think throughout this process we kept literacy relevant for our community and learners. We witnessed that our programs kept our learners from being left behind.

What’s ahead for training and tutoring?

For the foreseeable future, we will continue to operate our programs remotely. We are currently experiencing an increase in new learners who seek literacy services for GED preparation, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and citizenship preparation.

Because of this, we need new tutors! We provide free tutor training which includes an orientation with Chatham Literacy staff via Zoom and an 18-hour online training. We also provide opportunities for new tutors to shadow and observe active tutoring groups via Zoom and match new tutors with seasoned tutors as a support system.

Based on data from the 2020 PIACC (Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies), we know that nearly one in five Chatham County adults lack the basic literacy skills required to:

• read and interpret financial or legal documents such as rental contracts;

• talk with and understand their doctor;

• learn about community resources for food and health care;

• read COVID-19 guidelines for maintaining personal and community safety; and

• complete an online job application.

When individuals learn how to read, write, and understand English, do basic math, and use computers, they have the power to lift themselves out of poverty, lower health care costs, find and keep sustainable employment, and ultimately change their lives (Source: ProLiteracy).

To become a tutor, call 919-742-0578 or visit www.chathamliteracy.org.

You’re setting the table now for your next fundraising event in April. What do we need to know, and how can folks find out more?

On April 20, Chatham Literacy will hold an online spring author event featuring best-selling author Jill McCorkle and her husband, author and noted photographer Tom Rankin. This promises to be a unique, celebratory and engaging author’s event, so please join us! The authors will explore the making of their jointly-produced, lush and vivid new book, “Goat Light,” which dwells on the beauty of the Piedmont landscape, the life they experienced with their farm animals and their thoughts on the sacredness of home.

Jill McCorkle is the author of seven novels and four short story collections. Her writing style is described by O Magazine as “shimming prose.” Tom Rankin, a Professor of the Practice of Art at Duke University, is renowned for his photographic work and books on iconic rural life in the southeastern U.S. Both Jill and Tom will answer questions live during this event and you’ll also have a chance to win some awesome door prizes!

Door prizes include a round of golf for four with carts at the Golf Course at Chapel Ridge; a two-night stay with breakfast at the Inn at Celebrity Dairy; a one-night stay with breakfast at the Inn at Celebrity Dairy; autographed copies of the book; and a $50 gift certificate to Pittsboro’s newest restaurant, the Sycamore at Chatham Mills.

The details:

• When: 11 a.m. - 12:15 p.m., Tuesday, April 20

• Where: From your computer in the luxury of your own home or together with a small group of friends

• How: Donate $100 to Chatham Literacy at www.chathamliteracy.org or call 919-742-0578. Please register by April 16th.

We really appreciate your support of this virtual FUNdraiser. Money raised will directly support tutoring services that help an adult become a U.S. Citizen, earn a GED, and obtain a new job to name a few. Help us, help our learners turn dreams into reality.

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