Between the Lines: Fighting for Literacy

Mar 15, 2015

Kathy Jennings and Michael Evans
Credit WMUK

Reading isn’t just about picking up a great novel. It’s about being able to fill out a job application or a medical form. It’s about helping your children with a homework assignment or enjoying a bedtime story together. It’s about creating a grocery list and following a recipe—or just enjoying a game of Scrabble with friends.

Established in 1974, the Kalamazoo Literacy Council is committed to reducing illiteracy in Kalamazoo County, where statistics show more than 25,000 people struggle to read. Executive Director Michael Evans was brought on board in 2010 as the nonprofit’s first paid position for an otherwise all-volunteer organization. Free one-on-one tutoring programs offer help in improving reading, writing, and spelling skills. Lessons in basic computer skills are also available.

When Evans came to the Council, 49 tutors were working with 55 learners. By 2013 he had increased that to 170 tutors working with 240 learners.

“Three hundred tutors is our goal for now,” Evans says. “That’s what we believe we help us to really engage the numbers necessary for us to make a statistical change. We’re not here just to manage those who found us; we’re here to start to drive those illiteracy rates downward to the point of termination.”

Kalamazoo Literacy Council event
Credit Kalamazoo Literacy Council

Kathy Jennings, a volunteer coordinator for the Community Literacy Center, located at Pine Island Presbyterian Church in Texas Township (the newest of a number of literacy centers around Kalamazoo County) , offers insights into what it takes to become a tutor: “Just about anybody can be a tutor, as long as the interest is there. You have to be invested in it, because it takes time to go through the training.”

Tutors, Jennings says, must be literate; have the ability to speak, see, and hear clearly; be conscientious, flexible, patient, and positive; have a non-judgmental manner; have access to transportation; and complete a 14-hour training program. The Council also requests a commitment of at least one year. Meetings with students, or learners, usually take place once a week.

Evans says the Kalamazoo Literacy Council isn’t alone in its effort to eradicate illiteracy in Kalamazoo. Many other organizations in the area have similar programs, and it’s important, he says, to coordinate efforts and work together. Kalamazoo Adult Education, English as a second Language programs at the community college level, Goodwill Industries, Workforce Development at Michigan Works! - and others - all have programs in place.

Adults who would like tutoring should call the Kalamazoo Literacy Council at 269.382.0490, ext. 222, or visit its website.

Listen to Between the Lines on WMUK every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m.