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Kalamazoo Literacy Council

Kalamazoo Literacy Council was rewarded by the National Literacy Directory for its creative solution to a common literacy challenge: keeping up with the demand for adult literacy services by working with community partners.

Collaboration and Innovation Drive Collective Impact

Every year after 2011, the Kalamazoo Literacy Council in Kalamazoo, Mich., found its number of students outpacing the number of available volunteers to offer literacy tutoring and education materials to area adults. Students found themselves waiting one to six months to receive instruction. By the time a tutor became available to help, the student had lost his or her desire to study or had moved on to other goals. Sometimes, the student simply did not have the means or transportation to attend the tutoring session.

Thirteen percent of Kalamazoo County residents over the age of 18 read at the lowest literacy rate. In 2014, most of KLC's 315 students were unemployed, had an education less than twelfth grade, and were reading at a fifth grade level or lower.

Working collaboratively with community partners within the Adult Literacy Collaborative of Kalamazoo County and researching best practices KLC developed an innovative, cost-effective solution to the problem: the Community Literacy Center Model (CLCM). CLCM provided quality adult literacy services at the neighborhood level. With sessions scheduled to accommodate students on a drop-in basis, this strategy has reduced the waiting time for students to as little as one week and included expanded instructional capabilities.

The KLC has successfully piloted the program at 14 sites accessible to adult learners across the community, including five churches, two housing complexes, one neighborhood association, Michigan Works, Goodwill Industries of Southwestern Michigan, and the Kalamazoo Public Library. All partners provide space and volunteers free of charge.

They've found this model is adaptable across multiple venues and sustained by volunteers, neighborhood residents, and other local stakeholders, building a stronger sense of community in the process. What's more, each center costs only $1,000 to annually provide adult literacy services.

Use of this model has not only reduced waiting time and accommodated student need, it also has resulted in more instruction time for learners (from an average 1.75 hours per week to 4.61 hours per week for those studying in a literacy center), and increased student retention by 17 percent.

In 2014 alone, 62 students reported having improved their employment or job skills; 23 improved their computer skills; 16 obtained a driver's license; and 31 read to or helped their children with their homework. One student KLC was able to reach through its efforts was Rob Smith. Read his story here.

The Kalamazoo Literacy Council is a nonprofit volunteer tutor organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of illiterate adults through free one-on-one programs designed to develop reading, writing and spelling skills.

The National Literacy Directory is a community of innovative leaders, learners, educators, and student-champions that is managed by the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL). To find out more about future grant opportunities from the Directory, subscribe to NCFL's monthly e-newsletter. To learn about joining the Directory or creating an account, click here.