Samuel Jackson said “A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.” This quote is reflective of the amazing work that goes on at Literacy Rochester located in Rochester, NY. Joshua Stapf, the exuberant Executive Director of this remarkable non-profit shared some of his time with me to talk more about all things Literacy Rochester.
“A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.” Carl Sagan
In 1961 Ruth Colvin (who is 104 and who enjoys a game of golf whenever she can) began to learn more about adult illiteracy. In her quest to learn more she realized that traditional teaching methods would not be effective in helping adults learn to read. As Ruth continued her quest to help illiterate adults she led a group affiliated with the United Church Women in Syracuse, NY and founded Literacy Volunteers of America in 1964. This organization was patterned after Dr. Frank Laubach’s method of one-to-one tutoring called “Each One, Teach One.
“There are many ways to be educated, to get knowledge and wisdom as well as specific skills.” Ruth Colvin
As the years have passed since that fateful moment Literacy Rochester has evolved and grown in many ways. This was an all volunteer program until 1980. Joshua shared this group of six staff works to do “what is best for students and what is the need in the community” alongside their dedicated group of volunteers. Their passion is to speak for a group of people that too often are forgotten. Think of it this way. If you left high school, are over 21 years old, perhaps new to the United States and lack understanding of the English language, Literacy Rochester is the program that will meet you where you are to help you. Joshua shared the goal of Literacy Rochester is to get people to a sixth grade reading level. Getting someone to a sixth grade reading level can increase that individual’s income by $10,000 to $15,000. Sixth grade reading is considered survival, functional literacy. There are pre tests, post tests, and a variety of teaching methods to help students gain skills. I was able to see the incredible Lending Library where there are about 5000 items, including classic literature books, that are written at the second, third, fourth grade reading level. Board games, math games, and a plethora of other items shared are their students. All of this done with passion and purpose to support these courageous students.
“Reading is a way for me to expand my mind, open my eyes, and fill up my heart.” Oprah Winfrey
I must confess my understanding of all the services Literacy Rochester provides was minimal. As Joshua would share the variety of services they offer along with their numerous community partnerships I was blown away. Literacy Rochester added math support about 13 years ago. They do one-on-one and small group lesions. In addition to the math there is the reading language support and remediation support. Eight years ago digital literacy was an additional service they added. There are 45 volunteers who are stationed at thirteen locations, including many local libraries, who provide walk-in digital support. There are now weekly resume writing classes. There is a learning center located at their home site. Part of the learning provides cultural exchange conversation groups. Ongoing training and mentoring is provided to volunteers. Incoming clients who want to receive services fill out a survey as Literacy Rochester does its best to match students and volunteers. Volunteers meet with people in places close to where they live, so as long as it is public like a coffee shop or library this is where the magic will happen. Curriculum is adapted to meet the needs of students. There are approximately 175-225 volunteers who are the heart and soul and often are dedicated long-term volunteers. In 2019 Literacy Rochester celebrated volunteer Rose-Marie Klipstein for her 45 YEARS of volunteering. Literacy Rochester partners with a plethora of places to provide services from the REOC in Rochester to libraries throughout Monroe County. If there is a support or service a student needs Literacy Rochester will help the student access that support.
“Helping one person might not change the world, but it could change the world for one person.” Anonymous
When I arrived at Literacy Rochester to interview Joshua there was such positive energy and welcoming people. Joshua shares what motivates him along with the staff and volunteers is the courage of people who come to them seeking services. He told me about a 65 year old man who had worked as a tradesperson and wanted to learn how to read so he could read to his grandchildren. Joshua shared that the majority of students come to them by word of mouth from former students. The former students have trust in the people at Literacy Rochester. Students come to them so they can better their life. Joshua shared the story of another student from Mexico who came to Literacy Rochester to improve his skills because the man’s fiancee was going to school at the University of Rochester and he did not want to embarrass her at different events.
“A book is a gift you can open over and over again.” Garrison Keller
This mighty organization continues to grow and add services. They recently took over Literacy Central of New York. The library system is training Literacy Rochester volunteers so they can offer a digital program in all of the libraries. Partnerships are already in place with St. Ann’s community where they provide math and reading skills to employees of St. Ann’s. They are beginning health literacy and financial literacy classes along with conversations with some potential new partnerships with other organizations. When they see a need in the community Literacy Rochester tries to find a way to meet that need.
“The courage of our students, dedication of volunteers, and support of friends.” Joshua Staph
Literacy Rochester it is with honor that we shine our Kindness Champion Spotlight on you. The services you provide with heart and passion provide ripples of positive change. Joshua said it best “when you improve a person, you improve a family, you improve a community and create more civic engagement.” The courage, dedication, and support of students, volunteers, staff, and friends make Literacy Rochester needed and valued for those people who do not have anyone to speak up for them.
To learn more about the incredible Literacy Rochester or to become a volunteer here is their contact information:
Facebook: LiteracyRochester @LVRochester