$1.5M campaign launched

Campaign will help Literacy Center move to new space, make more room for learning

The Literacy Center of the Midlands has gone from serving about 90 students in 2010 to more than 500 in each of the past two years.

About 100 volunteers teach 60 classes a week preparing adults to take high-school deb and studentequivalency tests or teaching them basic literacy skills. In earlier days, only 20 weekly classes were available.

The center has experienced huge growth in the past few years, said Executive Director Kirsten Case.

The only thing that hasn’t grown is the center’s space.

That’s about to change. Center leaders recently launched a $1.5 million campaign to finance a move to the Cedarnole Plaza near 72nd and Dodge Streets. At 8,300 square feet on two levels, the new storefront space will be more than three times larger than either of the center’s previous two locations.

Click here to help today: www.giveliteracy.org/buildliteracy

“We need a better situation for the people we are serving,” Case said. “We’ve been the duct tape and classroomsuper glue place for a long time, and it’s not working.”

The Literacy Center currently occupies two rooms in an office building near 68th and Grover Streets. The 1,800-square-foot space houses 3½ classrooms, an office that holds three employees, and a study and gathering area. Several bookshelves are crammed in, but there’s no room for a library or for teachers to prepare.

The center moved there several months ago, after its lease ran out for a slightly larger space near 18th and Harney Streets. It had been in that location for about five years.

The space on 72nd Street previously held a Dollar General, a company whose corporate cause is adult literacy, Case said.

In the new location, the lower floor will be taken up by classrooms and a library. The smallest classroom there will be bigger than the largest classroom they’ve had in the past five years, Case said.

The library will be set up as a multipurpose area so students can move the furniture and collaborate. It also will have a computer lab.

Case called the top floor a “bonus” because the square footage is not included in the cost of the lease. It will house offices.

That means every cent of the facilities cost will go directly to benefit students, she said. Holland Basham Architects designed the layout for the Cedarnole building.

The fundraising campaign will pay not only for the new space but also for furnishings, equipment and staffing. Though the center has grown, the staff has not.

Case hopes to hire a volunteer coordinator and a student success coordinator who would work closely with clients to eliminate any barriers to success and help them plan for the future.

“We want to do whatever we can to give them the tools they need,” she said.

The center has experienced its growth without looking for students. Most clients come as referrals from welfare caseworkers, probation officers, nonprofit aid groups and other sources. Some are high school dropouts, some have reading deficiencies and some just need additional education to navigate daily life, Case said. They range in age from 18 to 80.

About 14 percent of the adults living in the metropolitan area — around 70,000 — are functionally illiterate.

Volunteer teachers come from various places as well. Some are retired educators, but that’s not required.

On a recent Wednesday, instructor Brenda Clark helped students prepare for the social studies portion of their high-school equivalency test. Five students, from their 20s well into middle age, sat at small tables in the tiny classroom.

They had to read part of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” written around the time of the Revolutionary War, and write a paragraph explaining what it meant.

Clark gave them tips to think analytically, then encouraged them to study further.

“When the dog doesn’t need to be walked, when the baby’s asleep, when you are at work and you get that 15-minute break, pull these out. Train your mind how to take this test,” Clark said.

Case hopes that scene will be replayed more often and with more people when the center moves. The new location will likely attract people who were unable to get downtown, she said.

She’s proud of the motivation and perseverance clients display, and she’s excited to offer them more.

“It’s amazing how focused students and teachers are even in crowded circumstances,” she said. “We need a proper facility to carry out our mission.”

By Betsie Freeman / World-Herald staff writer
Contact the writer: 402-444-1267, elizabeth.freeman@owh.com