Member Spotlight: Literacy for Life

Date: January 19, 2017

The Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance would like to spotlight our members for important events they have coming up. Nonprofit organizations that give back are a big part of what makes Williamsburg such a terrific community, so last week we interviewed Literacy for Life. This organization has been working for nearly 40 years to improve lives by teaching adults literacy skills required for self-sufficiency, better health, and meaningful participation in society. LFL will be hosting a panel discussion following the special screening of “Secret Lives of Americans” for February 9th, 2017 at 5:00pm. The screening will take place at Williamsburg Landing in the Alvin P. Anderson Auditorium. The featured episode of the documentary series will focus on a woman who has hidden her inability to read from those closest to her. The panel discussion will be led by Literacy for Life tutors, community leaders, and local adults who are working on improving their literacy skills. 

Kayla Kearse, the Alliance’s Public Relations and Social Media Specialist, spoke with Joan Peterson, Executive Director of Literacy for Life, to talk about the background of the organization and how you can get involved.

How was Literacy for Life founded?

Literacy for Life (then called the Adult Skills Program) was founded in 1975 by William and Mary faculty and students, along with concerned community members, who recognized the need for literacy development among members of the College staff. Rita Welsh, a graduate student in the Education Department, became the organization’s first director. In 1979, the Adult Skills Program became a United Way Agency and broadened its reach to members of the wider community.

What kinds of events and programs (besides the screening and panel discussion) does Literacy for Life offer?

Literacy for Life offers a creative and growing variety of programs. At its heart is one-to-one tutoring between adult learners and community volunteers. We also offer onsite and offsite classes, computer-based learning opportunities, health literacy and work skills programming, GED testing, and “Destination Graduation,” a program designed to assist high school juniors and seniors who are at risk of not graduating with their peers. 

Our signature event is the popular Reading Between the Wines fundraiser, featuring a well-known guest author as the keynote speaker. The event includes live and silent auctions and a delicious assortment of foods and wines. In addition, Literacy for Life is a regular beneficiary of Dancing with the Williamsburg Stars, the Williamsburg Craft Beer Festival, and the Blue Talon Bistro Turkey Trot.

How can the community get involved?

Literacy for Life always has a waiting list of adult learners who wish to be matched with tutors for help with reading, writing, math, or English language instruction. We provide all the training and materials needed for tutors to help their learners improve their skills and achieve their personal goals. Teaching experience is not required. Volunteers also assist the program with office tasks, event planning, and more.  

How can people reach out to the organization to get help improving their own literacy skills?

We encourage interested learners to watch our orientation video at /learners. People who wish to receive help with their literacy skills should call (757) 221-3325 or email and request an enrollment appointment. At that appointment, a staff member will explain the program, discuss the individual’s needs, complete enrollment paperwork, and help the learner get started. 

What is a success story that inspires your organization to keep up the work that you do?

We received a phone call from a local company’s human resources department because one of their most valuable employees, a heavy equipment operator, was unable to pass a certification exam newly required for his position. The employee was facing very real possibility of being unable to continue in the job he had held for decades, and his company was in danger of losing his experience and skill. With the help of a trained volunteer tutor, the employee was not only able to pass the certification exam but also found that he was better able to read his mail and conduct his personal business without his wife’s assistance. As a result of Literacy for Life’s help, he kept his job and became a more confident and independent individual.  

To learn more about Literacy for Life, click here.