Six years ago, I authored an article for Retired & Senior Volunteer Program’s Experience in Action! newsletter about Literacy Source and described how it was enabling a low-income, diverse population to achieve literacy. I described my experiences there as a volunteer. Now six years later, when RSVP asked whether I could write again about Literacy Source, I quickly and happily agreed.
It was an opportunity to learn of changes and developments that had taken place over the years. Literacy Source had recently relocated to Lake City to better fulfill its mission and expand its services. The relocation provides needed additional space for programs and a geographic location which offers proximity to larger numbers of clients as the general area is home to many immigrants and other lower-income families. However the goals of Literacy Source remain the same: to enable refugees and immigrants to improve their English, achieve literacy and/or Citizenship, and to help those who are native born improve their skills in order to achieve higher educational and vocational goals.
The heart of Literacy Source: staff & volunteers
I arranged to meet with Caroline Socha, the Volunteer Coordinator at Literacy Source, and also with current volunteer tutor, Linda Becker. We met at a local Starbucks (where else?), as the office was in the throes of packing for their move, to settle in by mid-April when classes would start again.
Caroline Socha joined Literacy Source as a volunteer ESL instructor six years ago, and became a staff member three years ago. Her experience as a volunteer makes her especially sensitive to the needs that volunteers have for support, training and ongoing backup.
Linda Becker completed her formal education with an M.A. in French literature and language. Her first employment was instructing ESL for the Berlitz organization followed by a long career in the Public Health field as a data specialist until her recent retirement. She’s been a volunteer tutor with Literacy Source for over a year now and spoke about how deeply she feels about her students who are representative of many different cultures and are working so hard to overcome the obstacles posed by family responsibilities and job pressures in addition to adjusting to a new culture. Many need to work several jobs to sustain themselves and their families but also have to make time to attend classes and tutoring sessions in order to improve their language skills.
Lynn Livesley joined Literacy Source as Executive Director in 2013. She successfully devoted much of her attention to diversifying funding sources after federal funding was cut by 60% – reducing it from 50% of the budget to just 15%. A substantial effort also went into seeking out partnerships and, at the same time, focusing attention on how services could be improved and expanded.
Partnerships & services
One of the most significant innovations has been to partner with other organizations to provide a program of classes and individual tutoring for students in order to help more of them reach their goals. As a result, Literacy Source is now operating at offsite locations throughout King County, as well as at their headquarters in Lake City, in order to reach larger numbers of students. Partnerships have been developed with Seattle Community College and Seattle Central Public Library, where classes and individual tutoring sessions take place. Both locations are easily accessible because of the availability of public transportation. Partnerships have also been established in various hospitals and correctional facilities in King County, and with Asian Counseling & Referral Services and at El Centro De la Raza. Other ongoing programs include ESL classes at the Angle Lake Family Resource Center, SeaTac and Tukwila Community Center.
At the Lake City center, ESL (English as a Second Language) classes are designed to help students move from whatever their starting level of proficiency is through all five levels of basic skills. The ABE (Adult Basic Education) program is for students who are seeking to improve their literacy skills and whose goals are to become employed or gain college admission, both of which require higher levels of proficiency. Finally, there is a program of classes and individual tutoring in preparation for application for Citizenship.
Classes are conducted by qualified staff with assistance from volunteers. There is a core of five full-time teaching staff, which includes two AmeriCorps members. The volunteer program relies on 150 members who volunteer primarily as tutors and co-instructors, and in various program support positions. Volunteers, like the student body, are of diverse backgrounds in all respects including education and vocational experience. They may be actively in the workforce or retired persons, but whatever their situation, they bring exceptional skills.
New recruits are always being sought and are essential to fulfilling the mission of Literacy Source! Contact RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.