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The Business of Second Chances: The Literacy Alliance

Social GoodAudrey Whetstone

Just take a moment and think about everything you read during the course of a normal day. When you wake up, you probably read the newspaper or your favorite online equivalent to catch up on the world. You browse Facebook, or other social media, keeping up with the lives of your friends and family. You read the instructions on how to cook your minute oatmeal. You read emails, text messages, your favorite novel. Really, when you think about it, people read all day long. A variety of materials pass under our noses and we read them without a second thought to what we're doing.

Now imagine that you can't read well enough, or fast enough to do any of that. How much more difficult would your life become? How difficult would your job become? It's a bleak idea, isn't it, not being able to read anything around you?

Believe it or not, there are people living in our area who have to deal with this kind of existence. The next non-profit in our series, The Literacy Alliance, on Clay Street near Main, helps adults overcome literacy impairments, and prosper.

The Literacy Alliance (TLA) strives to impact the lives of clients by working every day to fulfill their mission to end illiteracy in Allen County.

Since The Literacy Alliance works to decrease illiteracy, it is prudent to first explain what that is. Most of us probably think of illiteracy as the inability to read, period. If you put a book in front of someone who is illiterate, he or she will not be able to understand the written words on the page. This kind of illiteracy does exist. However, the illiteracy battled by TLA, which is the most prominent in the U.S., is the kind where a person may know how to read, but their skill is so low that they cannot complete everyday activities, like filling out a job application, using a computer, or taking the correct doses of medication. Not being able to perform these functions can make life very difficult for these people. Again, think about everything you read in a day, and then imagine that you simply couldn't.

Along with illiteracy, there is also an issue in Allen County of adults without diplomas. There are 32,000 adults eighteen years or older who do not have a high school diploma, or the equivalent in Allen County. This means about 1 in 9 adults do not have a diploma. The Literacy Alliance tackles illiteracy, and also helps adults work towards earning their GED.

The Literacy Alliance was officially formed in 1988, as the Three Rivers Literacy Alliance following a merger between two different organizations. However, the roots of the organization go back to 1962, when parishioners at First Presbyterian Church started tutoring adults to help them learn to read. The organizations merged because they wanted a more unified approach to battling adult illiteracy in Fort Wayne and Allen County.

The Literacy Alliance headquarters. There are actually 9 different TLA associated learning centers spread throughout area.

The Literacy Alliance headquarters. There are actually 9 different TLA associated learning centers spread throughout area.

Mike Landram, the Executive Director, described the mission statement which demonstrates their attitude towards helping adults: "We’re in the business of helping adults get a second chance." The adult students who come to The Literacy Alliance do not have their high school diploma, or an equivalency of the diploma. They come to The Literacy Alliance to work towards changing that. Landram also disclosed that people have a lot of different reasons for wanting to make the change, from a desire for better job opportunities, to having the ability to help their children or grandchildren with homework.

We’re in the business of helping adults get a second chance.

The Literacy Alliance offers multiple avenues for achievement. Their learning centers are places for adults to prepare for the GED; in small groups, adults learn computer skills; one-on-one tutoring focuses the adult learner on a specific subject; finally, the Family Literacy programs encourage learning and quality time for the whole family.

There are 9 learning centers in Fort Wayne and the surrounding areas offering classes at different times in order to be accessible to the most people. Some of them offer childcare, so the issue of who will babysit is not an deterrent for parents wanting to improve their education. Also, some of the learning centers have transportation assistance in case it would be difficult otherwise for adults to make their way to a learning center. It is clear that The Literacy Alliance does what it can to make learning and improving possible for everyone.

A class about filling out job applications was in progress when I visited The Literacy Alliance.

A class about filling out job applications was in progress when I visited The Literacy Alliance.

Adults with a variety of skill levels walk through the doors of The Literacy Alliance. Some adults have never taken part in a formal education system, while others dropped out of high school with only a year left before graduation. That being said, there are two main types of students tutored by The Literacy Alliance. As Mike explained, students who test at or above the fifth grade level will be placed in one of the High School Equivalency (HSE) centers, where they will work towards obtaining their GED. Students who test below the fifth grade level have a different curriculum. Some of these students have mental illnesses or learning impairments preventing them from advancing much further educationally. Even so, going to class enhances the self worth of these students and gets them out of the house, all while helping them maintain and improve upon the knowledge and education they've already acquired.

Another aspect of The Literacy Alliance, not immediately obvious, is the amount of emotional support they offer students. Adult students have a lot of pressure and a lot of stress as they juggle family time, work responsibilities, paying bills, and going to classes. While studying at The Literacy Alliance, these students can spend about 6 to 8 hours at a minimum each week going to class and studying, adding onto the typical work load all the more. Often, classes at The Literacy Alliance can be one of the easiest tasks to quit. Therefore, volunteers and others at The Literacy Alliance sometimes have to keep students motivated.

There’s an awful lot of emotional support that they receive ... It’s really a team effort where people pick up on the fact when someone is feeling a bit down or a little overwhelmed, and being able to say the right thing at the right time keeps people hanging in there.

Remember earlier, when I mentioned there are 32,000 adults in Allen County without a high school diploma? Mike told me that The Literacy Alliance is serving about 500 of those adults each year, just barely making a dent in that number. His major goal for The Literacy Alliance is to grow and try to reach more of those 32,000 people.

Donations can be made on their website, and if you're interested in volunteering or tutoring at The Literacy Alliance, more information can be found here.

Facebook: The Literacy Alliance of Fort Wayne

 

Want to help make a difference in someone's education? 

 

This is Part 2 in a series. If you liked this article, check out Part 1:

Healing Horses, Helping Children: Dare to Dream Youth Ranch

 

 

(Last two photos taken by the author, if not otherwise stated.)