My Story

My name is Kristy Cooper and I got the idea to do something with adult literacy programming in the fall of 2010 when I was working at the Westland Public Library in Westland, MI, a working class community about fifteen miles west of Detroit. I had been interviewing potential volunteers and I came across a young woman with an adult literacy certification on her application. I thought that was pretty neat and wanted to find a way to use her skills with an adult struggling with reading. It wasn't unusual for us to get a question about adult reading help and there were no literacy programs that actually served our area. I always had to refer people to literacy councils that were a few towns away, which I knew was probably not realistic for most people.

I put up a simple sign advertising free adult reading help once a week and within just a few weeks I had found her a regular student. Initially I thought we could do some type of drop in program, but began to realize how much better adult 1-on-1 tutoring worked if the same learner consistently worked with the same tutor over an extended time period. She had her one learner and they met two hours a week, but if we were going to help more adults I was going to have to find more tutors.

I was also going to have to learn more about what adult literacy tutoring really entailed. I reached out to a program in Detroit and asked if I could sign-up for their next tutor training class. I explained that I could not take a student there myself as I would be taking one in Westland. They said they may be able to take me at the last minute if the class (that wouldn't be starting until a month and a half later) was not full. I wanted more of a sure thing and began looking around in other directions, eventually getting in contact with Washtenaw Literacy, which served the next county over. I went to one of their information nights for potential tutors and they said it would be fine if I attended the tutor training without taking one of their students.

After I was trained, I quickly found a student at the library and also began meeting with her once a week for two hours. So we now had two tutors and two students. It seemed like if we were going to continue pursuing adult literacy I was going to have to find a way to get more tutors. I met with the Program Administrator at Washtenaw Literacy and she told me they could run a tutor training for us that we would have to pay for. She suggested that I host an information night to see if I could find enough people interested in being volunteer tutors for us to justify the cost.

So I went ahead and created this event in March of 2011, put it on our online event calendar and made flyers to put around the library. I got lucky and one of the local reporters called me and did a story that appeared in the Sunday paper for the week of the event. I've always tended to plan for way too many seats when I do programs "just in case", so I had thirty seats in the room where I planned to do my presentation. Then the maintenance man would come in after the program was done looking at me like "why did you make me set up so many chairs and only five people showed up?" And then all I could do was shrug sheepishly.

Honestly, I know some small part of me wanted to have only a few people show up. Then I would have been off the hook; I could have told myself "Well, I tried--this is just as far as we can go. Starting a whole adult literacy program would be so much work anyways . . ." But the room quickly became completely full and several people had to stand because there were not enough chairs. There were that many people who wanted to volunteer their free time to help an adult in need learn to read! At the end of the night I had 35 forms filled out by people interested in learning about any future tutor training we would schedule. I already knew there was a great need for adult literacy support in this community and now I practically had the means to make it happen just about dropped in my lap.

I quickly scheduled our first training with Washtenaw Literacy for late Spring and managed to get 31 people signed up for our first class of Westland Literacy Adult Basic Literacy tutors. In the mean time I continued to advertise for learners, getting our program listed in literacy directories (e.g. Proliteracy, Dollar General, 2-1-1), and dropping flyers off with other providers who could make referrals (Dept of Human Services, the Unemployment Office, Housing commission, etc.). More learners quickly began coming in and I ended up having eight ready for me to place once our first training was done. My mentor at Washtenaw Literacy gave me lots of fantastic advice regarding the logistics of assessment and placement that you will find in the toolkit portion of this website.

I was able to keep placing learners with available tutors until about November 2011, when I had to start a wait list for new learners. I only had a few tutors become available between then and our second tutor training in March 2012.

In late 2012 I began training two of our other amazing Librarians - Tara Scott and Liz Waun - to take over the program, because I knew I would be leaving the library to stay home with my new son. It was a terribly difficult decision to leave the program I had started, but I knew my job had me away 50 hours a week and I decided that was just too much for our family. However, I still vowed to be active with adult literacy and that is where the idea for this website was born. I also finished training for my own certification as an Adult Literacy Tutor Trainer through Proliteracy in June 2013 and continue to volunteer.

I helped Tara and Liz do a third tutor training with Washtenaw Literacy in March of 2013 and as of now over 50 adults in the Westland area have been placed with a volunteer tutor.

Has your library had a successful implementation of a program to support adult literacy? Please feel free to share your story with me and I will post it on the Success Stories portion of this website to share with others!