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Literacy Council adds capacity to help

The Fox Valley Literacy Council came looking for a Capacity Building grant from the Community Foundation to improve its communications and recruiting of new students.

It worked. It worked so well that now they have a bit of a space crunch.

A $50,000, two-year Capacity Building grant from unrestricted funds allowed the literacy tutoring group to add an adult education coordinator and a communications specialist position. Capacity Building grants provide technology, planning or increased staff or facility capacity to help a nonprofit accommodate growth.

When the grant period started in May of 2015, the Literacy Council was serving 336 adults, and had been for two years.

With the improved coordination and visibility that came with the new positions, the organization was able to serve 26 additional learners in 2015 and another 150 by the end of 2016. As part of that, improved collaboration with other agencies allowed them to reach out into immigrant communities.

For those 176 people, working with the Literacy Council gave them a variety of opportunities. For some it was a leg up to becoming U.S. citizens, for others, helping their children do homework, starting work on a technical school degree or managing their own finances.

Executive Director Nik Shier said the demand was always there. The grant gave her organization the capacity to recruit new students that it already had the capability to serve.

“A lot of it had to do with having support for more folks,” she said.

The Literacy Council’s waiting list stood at 80 at the end of last year. The capacity expansion got that number down to 30 earlier this year, but it is growing again.

Space is getting tight at their Franklin Street location, so they face the decision of finding more space or doing more of their work at other sites.

The other challenge they face now is finding ongoing support for the new positions. One strategy is finding new supporters as they grow their service territory. The other is to convince employers of larger numbers of their students to support a program that makes the employees safer and more productive by being able to read English.

“They can create an opportunity for people to grow personally and grow within the organization,” she said.

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