Washtenaw Literacy

Washtenaw Literacy’s website defines literacy as “the ability to read, write, compute, and use technology at a level that enables an individual to reach his or her full potential as a parent, employee, and community member.” International non-profit organization ProLiteracy International points out that “[w]hen individuals learn how to read, write, 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.”

For over 40 years, the volunteers with Washtenaw Literacy have been working one-on-one with people aged 16 and over to improve their reading and writing abilities, including English as a second language (ESL) skills. The non-profit has a high success rate! Which makes it a vital part of our community helping people in Washtenaw county to reach their full potential.

I recently spoke with one dedicated volunteer, Dee Rizor, about how she got involved with Washtenaw Literacy. “I used to look at volunteer opportunities pretty regularly and since reading is my first love, Washtenaw Literacy was always at the top of my list. However, I was a single mother for years and working 50 to 60 hours a week. When my daughter became self-reliant, I went to one of the Washtenaw Literacy orientation sessions [in 2013] and was hooked.”

All of the non-profit’s services are free to learners. For example, Basic Learning Open Tutoring includes help with GED, ESL, computer skills, job skills, and personal finance skills. ESL conversation groups offer learners the opportunity to improve their English speaking skills by practicing in small groups with volunteer tutors on hand. Those looking to work on their literacy skills one-on-one, their core program, would work with a volunteer like Dee began as.

But there are expanded opportunities for volunteers as well as learners. Said Dee, “After a few years, I was asked to join the mentor team. In addition to tutoring, the responsibilities were to help staff with delivering training to new tutors, to help staff organize and support events and to serve as a mentor to new tutors looking for advice or help. I also recently began coordinating an ESL group tutoring session every Friday.”

It sounds like pretty rewarding work to me! When I asked Dee what her favorite part of volunteering was, she answered, “I love our learners! It is a joyous experience to watch our learners as they progress and make strides toward their own goals. Working with Washtenaw Literacy has given much more to me than I could ever return. Knowing how many of our learners struggle to overcome their literacy challenge (whatever it may be), and seeing how hard they work to make a positive change in their lives humbles me. I am so proud of what Washtenaw Literacy does.”

We in Washtenaw county are so lucky to have this dynamic resource in our community. If you are interested in Washtenaw Literacy and its programs, please visit washtenawliteracy.org for more information.

–Crysta Coburn