Adult literacy program invests in communities

Literacy KC provides free tutoring and training to help improve lives

Albert has had a lot of jobs in his life and, because of it, has developed a variety of skills, from doing lighting to plumbing to operating machinery, but he never did learn to read and write.

From a young age, Albert struggled with dyslexia. He saw words backwards, and this challenge caused him to be left behind his peers. It’s one of the most common reasons that young people’s reading development stops and that struggle carries into their adult years.

In 2016, Albert had been working with a case worker at The Salvation Army who realized he had difficulty reading. They referred him to Literacy KC, a United Way of Greater Kansas City partner agency that provides no-cost tutoring services, advocacy and collaboration to help adults improve their literacy skills and quality of life.

“I really fell in love with the place right away because of the people,” Albert said. “Especially the students and volunteers. They make you feel so welcome.”

Through one-on-one tutoring, mentoring and regular classroom lessons, Albert made strides in his reading and writing. He would sometimes write words 200-300 times to retrain his brain to see letters in the correct order.

Another part of Albert’s progress, like every Literacy KC student, has been digital literacy.

According to Gillian Helm, the program’s executive director, Literacy KC understands adults must possess the digital skills to function in a technology-driven society.  

“Combining digital skills with the proper access to current devices, training and the internet gives our students the ability to perform all kinds of tasks, like sending emails and paying bills online to reading news articles and applying for jobs,” she said.

For Albert, it took a while to come around to the idea digital literacy.

“I thought the computer was the enemy,” he said. But once Albert was shown how he could access Kansas City Chiefs and Royals games, and watch all the western movies he wanted, Albert was hooked. The program helped him get his very own laptop.

“It took me a year to get on board with using a computer and then, once I had it and learned I could find all those old games and moves, it took another year to get off the laptop,” Albert said laughingly.

With the help of Literacy KC and backing from United Way, Albert has gone from being diagnosed as a nonreader when he first enrolled in classes in 2016 to moving up level by level. He continues his hard work today and has become one of the best recruiters for the program.

“I want to get my GED and maybe take business classes one day,” Albert said. “Whenever I go to the library, I take Literacy KC flyers and pass them out to tell people about this program. I’m always looking for somebody that I can help.”