According to a 1990 census report, 17% of the adult population in Ionia County, a rural county in Michigan, is functionally illiterate. Thus, the Ionia County Literacy Council was formed in August 1987 to address the needs that illiteracy brings to the community. Since then, nearly 1000 individuals have had their literacy needs addressed by this organization. One-to-one tutoring is arranged for children, teens, and adult volunteers who meet with their students at local libraries, churches, or businesses to work on the skills needs and the goals determined by the learner.
The Ionia County Literacy Council has grown from employing a five-hour-a-week director to a twenty-five hour per week director, plus two additional part-time staff. Volunteers have increased from 30 to more than 150. Sixty volunteer/student pairs are working together each week throughout Ionia County.
The accomplishments of the Ionia County Literacy Council include working in two local plants with nearly 50 students and conducting English as a Second Language classes for several Spanish and Thai students. There are programs for inmates in three of the State penitentiaries in the county. In two of these facilities, inmates are trained as volunteer tutors to work with other inmates to improve literacy skills.
“Reading with Your Children” workshops are held in the prisons in December. In 1999, nearly 100 men went through the program in which they learned the importance of reading and the impact they have on their children’s future. After the presentation, they were allowed to select a book to send to their children with a note from themselves. Nearly 200 children received a gift from their fathers. At one facility, 10 men were allowed to send a tape of their reading a book to their children.
In another prison, the Ionia County Literacy Council volunteers go in one day a week and use children’s literature to enhance parenting skills for the inmates. There are 10 men involved in the first cycle of the program, which means that at least 17 children will be impacted. Volunteer tutors also travel to the local county jail. These volunteers work one on one with inmates on reading, writing, and math skills.
During the summer, the council runs a tutoring program for youth reading below grade level. Volunteers work for 45-minute sessions, two to four times per week and grade levels generally increase by two-thirds. In February, the council sponsors a poster contest for students in second through fifth grade. Winners receive ribbons, books, and prize money. In March, Ionia County Literacy Council volunteers go into every first grade class in the county. Books are read to the class, and every first grader receives a new book that the Literacy Council provides through a grant from the Child Abuse Council.