Meet Your Nonprofit - Literacy Volunteers of Charlottesville/Albemarle

Describe your nonprofit’s mission.
Literacy Volunteers of Charlottesville/Albemarle (LVCA) addresses low literacy and under-education among adults in our region through free, individualized reading, writing and English language instruction. Our mission is to help individuals become better workers, consumers, neighbors, citizens and parents through one-to-one tutoring.

As an independent 501(c)3 offering individualized tutoring, unrestricted donations allow us to be student-centered and serve individuals, no matter their goal. Instruction focuses on specific goals, such as being able to communicate with their children’s teachers, speak to their employers, and become better consumers and workers.

What need in our community brought about the creation of your nonprofit?
In 1983, the director and staff of the Charlottesville Adult Education Center identified a need for an “adult readers program” for the area. They invited community leaders and various service organizations to attend an exploratory meeting. This led to the formation of a small volunteer group.

Census data for Charlottesville and Albemarle has consistently revealed a significant literacy deficit for adult residents of the area, native and non-native. In the most recent census, for example, the number of adults with less than a 9th grade education was 3,935, or 4.2 percent of the population. In 2014, 2,991 adults in Charlottesville and 5,815 adults in Albemarle did not have a high-school diploma. The 2010 census also shows that approximately 1,660 residents of Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville self-reported that they “do not speak English very well.” Nationally, 14 percent of the U. S. population reads at “Below Basic” level, meaning that they have only the most simple and concrete literacy skills, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute of Literacy research conducted in August 2016.

We imagine a community where every adult has the literacy and English language skills he or she needs to live a fulfilling and productive life in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Literacy Volunteers strives to provide foundational education to support our students as they embark on workforce and educational paths that will help them secure better jobs and become more fully involved in community life.

How has your nonprofit made a difference in our community?
The Charlottesville/Albemarle region has over 9,000 functionally illiterate adults. Through literacy education, these adults are able to obtain better jobs, and consequently become productive and engaged members of our community. In fiscal year 2016, 143 students met a work-related goal and improved their employment situation by gaining technical skills and improving communication with supervisors. These goals were achieved through practicing interview skills, reading want ads, and filling out job applications. In addition, 50 students obtained a new or better job. Many of our students are refugees, so improving their English skills is the first step in helping them integrate into our culture and obtain jobs that will enable them to be self-sufficient. Their integration and employment contributes to the local economy and the overall community.

How can community members help you achieve your mission?
To meet the ever growing demand for our services, we rely on our community members to help us achieve our mission as volunteers and as donors. We are in constant need of volunteer tutors to work with our students. These tutors give approximately eight hours each month for a year. They are matched with a student to help them achieve their goals through literacy. Other volunteer opportunities include assisting in the office, representing the organization at events or helping out at our annual fundraiser, Wordplay. We also rely on the financial support of individual donors to help us continue to provide our services free of charge, to over 400 students each year.

Tell us a story that has come out of your work.
“I dreamed to be a teacher,” S. said of her childhood ambitions, but the road to fulfilling that dream was a long one. Born in Puerto Rico, she studied business administration in college and worked as a legal secretary for many years before moving to Charlottesville two years ago. “I moved here looking for a new opportunity for my kids, something better, something new,” she said. And, while her children, ages 12 and 13, quickly adapted to school in a new country, it has taken her longer to get accustomed to life in the United States. She began by working two part-time jobs for low wages to get by.

S. started studying with a LVCA tutor in 2014. She squeezed their sessions in between her work shifts and her English quickly began to improve—she completed LVCA’s program in the spring of 2015. Thanks to her improved skills, S. applied to and obtained a Teaching Assistant job a local elementary school, assisting students in their Spanish-English bilingual program. During her training she had to read a paragraph in front of other employees, which made her think of her tutor, and how much of an impact tutoring has had on her confidence and ability level.

“Now, I’m working in a school with children, doing good things,” S. said. “I’m doing something good in my life and something good for other people.”

Learn more about Literacy Volunteers of Charlottesville/Albemarle

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