According to the National Institute for Literacy, more than 129,000 Northern Virginia adults are functionally illiterate, which means they are unable to complete a job application, read a prescription bottle, or read to their children. Established in 1962, the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia is the oldest and largest organization in Virginia dedicated to combating this statistic. The Literacy Council is the only regional program that provides instruction to illiterate adults. This is accomplished through one-on-one tutoring, classroom instruction, and computer-assisted learning.
In Fiscal Year 1999, the Council served 1,687 students. This represents a new record for a literacy organization in Virginia and the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, and was made possible, in large part, through the efforts of 942 dedicated volunteers who contributed a total of 37,340 reported hours. The value of time and expertise donated by these volunteers exceeds $629,000. The value to the students is priceless.
The Literacy Council’s original mission was to serve Basic Literacy students. However, as the area population became more diverse and community need grew and changed over time, the Literacy Council responded by expanding to meet these demands. The English as a Second Language (ESL) program was instituted in 1976 to serve new immigrants and help them develop basic survival and day-to-day skills.
In 1999, the Family Learning Project was established in partnership with Fairfax County Head Start research indicating that children of non-literate parents are more than twice as likely than the general population to be illiterate. Laubauch Literacy International prompted the formation of this program. In the program’s first year, 57 families were served. Parents received English or pre-GED instruction while volunteers worked with children, reading books and playing educational games. The one-to-one tutoring program is utilized in both the Basic and ESL program. Individual tutoring allows students to progress at their own pace and the 9-12 month commitment made by volunteer tutors ensure that significant progress can indeed be made. In addition, the Literacy Council supports the students in various ways, including a student support group called the Amigos, a Dictionary Project that supplies free copies of Webster’s Dictionary to every students, and showcasing student essays in various publications.
The success of Literacy Council programs is largely attributed to the efforts of thousands of volunteer who have donated their time over the years. In a recent Council survey, 94% of students exhibited a marked improvement in their reading, writing, or English-speaking skills. Every students said they would recommend the program to someone they know. Others indicated that the program has helped them get a better job, pass tests such as the citizenship test and GED, obtain a driver’s license, and read to their children.
Gabriella, a Literacy Council student, writes how her life has been affected: “When you can’t read and write it is like watching a movie in black and white with no color. Reading and writing add color to my movie. It is a whole new dimension that enables me to function on a daily basis.”