The Literacy Council of Southwestern Pa. is transforming lives | Helping the Helpers

The council relies heavily on its trained tutors, who are vital cogs in providing the gift of reading to students. It is seeking volunteers

By: - December 24, 2021 6:30 am

The literacy council offers adult basic education classes that provide instruction in reading, writing, and math, along with GED tutoring.

By Karen Mansfield

“Literacy,” said former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, “is the bridge from misery to hope.”

(Capital-Star file)

The Literacy Council of Southwestern PA is a nonprofit gem that, for more than 3 1/2 decades has given hope to – and transformed the lives of – people in Fayette County by improving their reading skills.

The literacy council offers adult basic education classes that provide instruction in reading, writing, and math, along with GED tutoring.

The council also provides free English as a Second Language classes to help local immigrants gain the language skills they need to find jobs and to get involved with their communities. It also offers a children’s literacy program.   

The council relies heavily on its trained tutors, who are vital cogs in providing the gift of reading to students. It is seeking volunteers.

The nonprofit also depends on donors to support its mission, and is grateful for donations.

The Literacy Council of Southwestern Pennsylvania teaches reading, writing, and language skills to adults. The nonprofit was started in 1985, and is seeking volunteers and donations to continue its mission.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic the literacy council immediately pivoted to meet the needs of students.

Thanks to two sizable grants, the literacy council purchased Chromebooks and MIFIs and began teaching classes remotely via Zoom.

In addition, the council used the second grant to start a Student Emergency Relief Fund to assist immigrant students by purchasing grocery cards, gas cards, and gift cards to help students pay for utilities and other expenses.

While the number of students enrolled in classes has more than doubled – and nearly tripled – due to remote learning, the number of tutors, a vast majority of whom are retired seniors, has declined. 

“We’ve not only stayed relevant during the pandemic, but we’ve reached a larger population of people in need, but the tutor pool has gone down. There aren’t enough to deal with record enrollment,” said executive director Brandi Miller.

Zoom has been a game-changer, allowing some tutors to host classes from their homes in New Jersey and Washington, D.C.

  • IF YOU WANT TO HELP: For information on the Literacy Council of Southwestern Pennsylvania, or to donate or to volunteer, visit the website at lcswpa.org.

Typically, the literacy council has around 50 tutors, with around 35 active, but they are down to about 25, while student enrollment in the ESL and GED programs has ballooned to 240.

The Literacy Council of Southwestern Pennsylvania aims to help area adults to gain literacy skills.

The council is expanding on-site services into the Mon Valley, Canonsburg, and Chartiers-Houston areas, in addition to helping students find solutions to unemployment and other issues. 

It provides Zoom and in-person literacy classes seven days a week.

The literacy council has provided services to immigrants from 56 countries, and has helped students obtain U.S. citizenship.

“As a volunteer, I know that I become part of their American journey, their American story,” said Kris Drach, a tutor and board president. “I love that I am able to be that in someone’s life. They’re the most wonderful people … what we do is so much more than teaching someone English.”

Miller echoed Drach’s thoughts.

“We’re the fortunate ones, to be a part of their experience. I’m so grateful for what I do and what we do here,” said Miller. “Our whole program, we could not do it without volunteers.”

Karen Mansfield is a reporter for the Uniontown Herald-Standard. Readers may email her at [email protected]. Helping the Helpers is a cooperative effort between the Uniontown Herald-Standard and the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.