CHAMBERSBURG – Last Tuesday, the Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12 Franklin County Literacy Council held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate their new location at 518 Cleveland Avenue, Suite 1A. The event was an opportunity for the public to tour the new space and discover how FCLC’s programming empowers communities through literacy.
Representatives from the Shippensburg Area Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Waynesboro Chamber of Commerce and the Cumberland Valley Business Alliance, which includes Chambersburg and Greencastle, presided over the ribbon cutting.
Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12, headquartered in New Oxford, is a K-12 education provider that serves Adams, York and Franklin Counties. As part of LIU12’s adult education division, FCLC has offered programs for people 18 and up throughout Franklin County since 1985.
FCLC has had several locations over the years, but they most recently worked out of the Coyle Free Library. The move to the Cleveland Avenue office complex in mid-January gives them room for their programs to grow.
These programs commonly take the form of free adult education classes focusing on reading, writing, math and other soft skills. FCLC also offers financial literacy workshops, and they are currently partnered with King Street Ministry’s Agape program to offer computer classes.
“I would say here in Chambersburg, our predominant service is English as a second language instruction for our non-native English-speaking residents,” said Program Coordinator Angie Wilt.
Wilt is responsible for many of the public-facing aspects of FCLC such as presentations, recruitment and marketing, but she also trains (and supports) tutors, creates community partnerships and brings in donations and sponsorships.
She said that Franklin County is largely in line with the national average in terms of literacy rates, which estimates that 1-in-5 residents struggles with low literacy.
“Low literacy doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not capable of doing things, it’s just that they haven’t had the opportunity to learn those skills,” said Wilt. “That’s what we’re here to do – help them build those skills so that they can increase their opportunities for going on to higher education, certification programs and better jobs. In some instances, helping them acclimate to the culture.”
What we talk about when we talk about literacy
Wilt explained that at FCLC literacy is more complex than just teaching someone how to read. Reading is important, of course, but it is only one of the forms of literacy that they teach. They approach literacy in the broader sense of being able to comprehend the world in a meaningful way.
“Being literate means you are capable of not just reading and writing and doing math, but doing it in a way that creates comprehension,” said Wilt. “It’s critical thinking skills. It’s problem-solving skills.”
Health literacy is an example that Wilt often uses when presenting to civic organizations. She asks people to consider the impact of someone who is unable to comprehend the directions given to them by their healthcare providers. If the patient doesn’t understand the details of the packaging or the specific instructions, “it’s just going to snowball for them, and that puts a strain on our healthcare costs and on our healthcare providers with repeat visitors.”
Wilt offers literacy as a “holistic solution to a lot of the issues that some of our people are struggling with.”
The business case for community literacy
Viewed in this light, it makes sense that three chambers of commerce turned out in support of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
“What Angie’s doing, it’s definitely helping our entire community – especially in a time when employment is so down,” said Jordan Nace, membership director for the Cumberland Valley Business Alliance. “Teaching these skills to folks is helping them increase their chances of getting jobs exponentially.”
Once they have those jobs, literacy can also help them keep – and even excel – at them because they will have the cultural knowledge needed to assist customers in person and over the phone.
And those benefits are the start of a progression that can potentially span generations.
“We learn a lot from our parents, right?” said Nace, adding, “If your parents are well-spoken individuals, the likelihood is that you are going to be literate and have a strong vocabulary growing up. Not all of us are granted that situation as a youngster.”
Wilt said that there are many wonderful programs available for childhood literacy, but one of the best things an adult can do is learn those skills themselves and demonstrate them as an example.
“A child’s chance of becoming literate and succeeding in life is directly connected to the literacy levels of their parents or caregivers,” said Wilt. “If those adults in their lives don’t have those literacy skills, chances are, they’re not going to be able to support that [child’s literacy] or model what that looks like.”
She added: “An ideal tutor is someone who can understand that what they’re doing has meaning not just for this one person but for an entire family and generations of that family.”
The desperate need for tutors
FCLC currently serves approximately 60-65 adults per year. It’s a good start, but it barely puts a dent in the total community need.
“We do need tutors,” said Wilt who started out with FCLC as a volunteer tutor. “We desperately need tutors. We have so many people in this county who need our help.”
There is currently a waitlist for people waiting to access FCLC’s programs.
“We only have eight tutors who are serving an entire county right now,” she said. “We could use 20 or 30 more.”
The additional volunteer tutors (Wilt is the only full-time staff member at the Chambersburg office) would help Wilt expand the organization’s reach further into places like Waynesboro, Shippensburg, Mercersburg and Fort Loudon without requiring the residents to travel to Chambersburg.
FCLC’s grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education requires that tutors hold a bachelor’s degree and that all classes are taught in English. There is an onboarding process and training process, and Wilt will work with tutors one-on-one for more tailored training as needed. Tutors can expect to put in about 4-6 hours per week working with adult members of the community – there is no maximum age limit.
“If they’re 95 and still want to come in and learn something, we’ll try to help them,” said Wilt.
People without bachelor’s degrees can volunteer as classroom aides or advisory board members who can bring fresh experiences and ideas.
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Nace said that Wilt eats, breathes and sleeps the mission of LIU12 Franklin County Literacy Council. However, with limited resources and being asked to do more with less, it will ultimately be the volunteers who share and execute her vision that will make the difference.
“The government continues to ask more of the workforce groups – we are part of workforce education – they continue to cut our funding but expect more and more from us,” said Wilt, in addition to “rising prices and costs.”