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Literacy Works (Chicago)

Literacy Works was awarded an Innovation Grant from the National Literacy Directory for its solution to pull together a community's resources to continue serving adult education students despite budget cuts and funding woes. Read more below.

Overcoming Funding Challenges as a Community

Funding challenges, and all of the struggles that accompany them, are persistent and critical problems nationwide for adult learning and literacy programs—and the potential students working to improve their skills and lives through education.

Literacy Works, a Chicago nonprofit established in 1995, embodies the collaboration required to meet these enduring challenges. With roots in four community-based agencies banding together in 1995, Literacy Works has grown to support a network of more than 50 adult literacy and parent education programs across the city.

Today, Literacy Works is rising to meet the needs of learners across the Chicago area despite a potentially crippling state budget impasse that affects adult education programs. Some programs have closed and others have had to drastically cut services. To reach the students most affected by the shortage of services, Literacy Works has partnered with the Chicago Public Library to offer an Adult Learning in the Library (ALL) program at two branches twice a week. During ALL, Literacy Works provides a site coordinator and trained volunteers to conduct English conversation groups, reading and writing groups, and math activities.

"Creative collaboration is a vital strategy across education efforts. Literacy Works is a great example of an organization working to pull a community's adult learning resources together to meet the needs of students who need these services—and, together, overcoming daunting budget challenges," said Tracy Noles, director of the National Literacy Directory.

In addition to operating a hotline for students seeking to find a nearby program that fits their learning needs and goals, Literacy Works also actively recruits volunteers through social and traditional means to place them at short-staffed organizations. Their main goal is to relieve some of the burden for programs operating with skeletal budgets.

Literacy Works trains volunteer tutors and professional instructors at community-based adult learning programs throughout Chicago. More than 700 practitioners at nearly 50 organizations are trained annually to offer high-quality instruction in Adult Basic Education and English as a Second Language.


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.