Press Releases

August 2009 (Washtenaw County, Mich) – If Michigan aims to regain its economic footing, it has to surmount a daunting barrier.  The State is uncovering alarming new statistics that reveal a workforce that’s ill-equipped to support new industry, a major stumbling block to economic development.  In fact, according to a recent Detroit Free Press article, nearly one-third of working-age adults in Michigan lack the reading skills needed for jobs that can support a family.  It’s a statewide problem – urban and rural – even impacting such areas as education-oriented Washtenaw County, home to University of Michigan and a host of other lauded cultural institutions.  

 

“These statistics confirm what we’ve been seeing walk through our doors,” says Amy Goodman, executive director of Washtenaw Literacy, a nonprofit agency that helps illiterate and low literate adults learn to read.  “People who had good-paying jobs in manufacturing are not only now out of work, but many are finding they lack the skills needed to even apply for a job.”

 

In Washtenaw County, statistics point to an illiteracy rate of 12%, about 27,000 citizens.  With the economic downturn and resulting fresh competition for jobs, Washtenaw Literacy, one of Southeastern Michigan’s largest and most established literacy agencies, is seeing demand for its services – free to county residents – accelerate dramatically. 

 

The group matches adult learners with trained volunteers who provide individual and group tutoring in reading and writing skills.  Its core program is one-on-one tutoring, which holds an impressive success rate:  more than 90% of the adults in these programs reach at least one of their goals.  The group attributes its success to a “designer tutor” approach, which allows volunteer tutors to plan lessons according to the learner’s strengths, needs and goals.  In turn, learners are motivated because they are setting, and meeting, their own standards for success.

 

Not only are the programs successful, they’re cost effective – a donation of $500 supports one-on-one tutoring for a learner for an entire year.  According to the National Center for Family Literacy, that year translates into a 25% increase in employment potential for the learner.  For the community, it means a stronger work force and reduced rates of crime and poverty.  More important it interrupts a frightening cycle of illiteracy:  studies show 50% of the children of parents who can’t read will grow up to be illiterate adults.  

 

Washtenaw Literacy relies on donations and volunteers to address the growing need for their services.  The group eagerly accepts new volunteer tutors, training them to work with the adult learners who need their guidance, as well as other behind-the-scenes workers whose volunteer efforts help the organization run smoothly.  Time commitments are minimal – a few hours a week.  Anyone interested can take a look at www.washtenawliteracy.org/volunteer for a no-obligation peek at the kinds of positions available. 

 

Donations enable Washtenaw Literacy to expand its work and fall marks the group’s biggest fundraising season.  Its annual “World in a Basket” fundraiser will be held October 2 in Washtenaw Community College’s Morris Lawrence Building.  This year’s theme -- “Celebrate Literacy. Celebrate Locally.” -- puts the spotlight on the critical need faced in Washtenaw County. A strolling dinner and auction -- where “baskets” of goods offered by local businesses as well as special vacation packages, and other special items go to the highest bidder -- have attracted those looking to support an important cause in an entertaining setting for 11 years.  This year’s emcee is Ann Arbor radio and television personality Lucy Ann Lance.  Plus, the honorary host committee includes Tim McIntyre, author of Hire the American Dream, and Zingerman’s Paul Saginaw.  All proceeds from the event go to fund Washtenaw Literacy’s programs.  To learn more about Washtenaw Literacy’s “World in a Basket,” visit worldinabasket.blogspot.com.

 

“This is a time for all of Michigan to pull together to revive our economy,” says Ms. Goodman.  “At Washtenaw Literacy, we have opportunities for anyone who wants to get Michigan going again by starting in our own backyard.  If you’re interested in making an impact locally, we would love to hear from you.”     

 

About World in a Basket

 

World in a Basket is an annual fundraiser supporting the work of Washtenaw Literacy.   This year’s event, “Celebrate Literacy. Celebrate Locally.”  is October 2, at 5:30, in Washtenaw Community College’s Morris Lawrence Building.  The evening includes drinks, strolling supper, and auctions of 100 gift baskets.  Tickets are $65  if purchased by September 18 – a $10 discount off the regular $75 price.  Tim McIntyre hosts a book signing (books available for purchase) at 6:00.   All tickets include beer, wine and strolling supper.  Proceeds go directly to Washtenaw Literacy.  For ticket information, call (734) 879-1320 or email Washtenaw Literacy at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

About Washtenaw Literacy

Washtenaw Literacy (www.washtenawliteracy.org) is a volunteer-based organization providing free literacy instruction customized to the needs of adults throughout Washtenaw County. Volunteers provide individual and group tutoring in reading and writing skills and in English as a second language so adults can improve their personal, family, and community lives.