Join a growing team in our new Pontiac office. See job descriptions.
Making Reading Accessible For Everyone
Join a growing team in our new Pontiac office. See job descriptions.
Elaine Cruz came to the U.S. in 2019 as a teenager from Venezuela, leaving behind an inflation rate of 500%, an economy in tatters, and an authoritarian president.
Elaine lived with her aunt in Rochester Hills while her parents remained in Venezuela. After graduating high school as an ESL student, Elaine began taking English lessons with Oakland Literacy Council volunteer tutor Cathy Fitzpatrick. As Elaine’s reading and listening skills improved, she began thinking about a career in behavioral therapy as a way to serve children in need, particularly those with autism.
In late 2022, Elaine took a course to become a registered behavioral technician (RBT), an entry-level employee in her chosen field. She credits Cathy’s help with passing the certification exam and putting her on the path toward a high-demand job.
“The class was so difficult,” Elaine said. “There were so many terms that were similar, and so much information I had to learn. Cathy helped me a lot to understand the terms and the examples.”
Cathy’s professional background is in history and education, not therapy. She downloaded a study guide for the RBT exam, along with a workbook, and flashcard set. She set out to understand the material herself. “On her own, Elaine was studying and taking practice exams,” Cathy said. “Together, we went over the questions that she got wrong. I explained why and guided her to the correct answer…I am very proud of her hard work!”
Elaine is waiting for the renewal of her work permit, so she can use her new credentials to get a job. She plans to work as a behavioral technician while saving money to go to college to become a board-certified behavior analyst, the top job in her field.
Cathy, meanwhile, continues to help Elaine brush up her speaking skills. “She has already come a long way since we began tutoring together” almost two years ago, Cathy says.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Community Service Commission honored 46 individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations recipients of the 2022 Governor’s Service Awards and applauded their commitment to volunteerism, service or philanthropy in an awards ceremony held November 17th at the Fox Theatre in Detroit.
Oakland Literacy tutor Irene Sinclair was awarded the Civic Engagement Impact Award.
“Michigan succeeds because of Michiganders who go above and beyond to serve their communities and lift up others,” said Governor Whitmer. “This year’s winners get things done even when nobody’s looking because they know that every contribution makes a huge impact. I am honored to present the Governor’s Service Awards to this year’s 46 recipients and urge every Michigander to get involved in their community so we can move our state forward together.”
Irene Sinclair, at every level, is tireless in her efforts to help English language learners improve the quality of life for themselves and their families. Irene spent her professional life as an adult educator in Detroit Public Schools (DPS). During her tenure with DPS, she oversaw several adult education learning centers, trained adult education teachers, wrote curriculum, and taught both foreign-born and native-born adults with low literacy levels. Since her retirement, Irene has generously shared her deep knowledge and dedication to adult literacy as a volunteer with Oakland Literacy Council (OLC). Irene has dedicated eight years and over 1,000+ volunteer hours to OLC where she has made a positive and meaningful difference in the lives of hundreds of tutors and adult learners. Over the years, Irene developed and delivered supplemental professional development workshops to volunteers on topics including lesson planning and conversational skills. In addition to volunteering with OLC, Irene served as a community mediator for Oakland Mediation Center helping parties peacefully resolve conflicts. In the words of Irene, “Literacy gives people opportunities to live fuller lives. That’s my strongest reason for being committed to adult learning.”
“We are so excited to see the Governor recognize the hard work of Irene,” said OLC Executive Director Lisa Machesky, “she is such a fierce advocate for adult education and has been a mentor to our staff and to so many of our tutors. She truly has made an impact on the lives of so many.”
You can see more of Irene’s story at the Michigan Heros website: Michigan Heroes Project
Oakland Literacy Council (OLC) is seeking an experienced Development Director to support the ongoing growth and expansion of OLC adult literacy programs and services. Previously a part-time position, the full-time Development Director will report to and work in a collaborative partnership with the Executive Director with a primary goal of increasing individual, corporate, and foundation giving, including sponsorship for an established annual event. Responsibilities also include management of the donor database, donor stewardship, and donor communications.
Salary is $70,000 – $75,000 with benefits including membership in AFP. A copy of the full job description and application instructions can be found at https://www.oaklandliteracy.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/Development-Director.pdf
by Annie Waldman, Aliyya Swaby and Anna Clark, with additional reporting by Nicole Santa Cruz
ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.
Examining the Toll of America’s Literacy Crisis
In Amite County, Mississippi, where a third of adults struggle to read, evidence of America’s silent literacy crisis is everywhere.
It’s in a storefront on Main Street, in the fading mill town of Gloster, where 80-year-old Lillie Jackson helps people read their mail. “They can’t comprehend their bills,” she said. “So many of them are ashamed that they haven’t finished grade school.” She longs for the day she can retire, but she doesn’t want to abandon her neighbors. “That’s the only reason I really stay open,” she said.
It’s in the Greentree Lumber mill, where dozens of residents cut Southern yellow pine into boards, but supervisors — who must be able to page through machine guides and safety manuals — are recruited from other counties. “We’re going to have demand for jobs with no people to supply them,” mill accountant Pam Whittington said.
Alexandra Williams wanted to change careers from a low-paying job as a nurse assistant. Her brother works in robotics, and she knew she could earn more money and advance her career faster in the high-demand field of robotics. She secured a scholarship through the state of Michigan for a robotics technician program at Oakland Community College. But then she hit a roadblock: she failed the qualifying entrance test to enroll in the program. Her math skills were too low. “If you don’t use that math, you lose it,” she explained.
But Alexandra, 32 years old, was determined. Oakland Literacy Council zeroed in on the specific math skills she needed relevant to a career in robotics and provided her with one-on-one tutoring as well as an online curriculum. “Oakland Literacy helped me to quickly build the specific math skills I needed,” she said.
Alexandra enrolled in the 16-week robotics program, graduated, and quickly had three job offers as a robotics technician. She accepted an offer from FANUC Robotics in Rochester Hills and begins in January. During the interview, she was asked about her math skills, and she felt confident she had the skills for the job. “I’m really excited,” she said. “This is a career I can grow to love. The world will be running off robots in the future.”
Just like for young children and teenagers, the road to learning for adults isn’t always a straight line.
“Our adults are often juggling many work and family responsibilities,” says student coordinator Amanda Powe. “They come in expecting so much of themselves but often have learning, emotional, and practical barriers to overcome. COVID-19 only added new curves.”
Thankfully, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan recognized the critical need for more individual student support. Last year, the foundation awarded a $42,000 grant to Oakland Literacy Council to make the student coordinator a full-time position for the 2021-2022 program year. The grant also included technology for student communication and instruction.
“The effects of the pandemic on adult education, digital literacy, and access to technology have been significant,” says Ric DeVore, president, Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. “We are pleased to collaborate with Oakland Literacy Council as they provide individualized staff and technology support to adult learners impacted by COVID-19. This program is helping our community to recover and thrive, and we look forward to the impact it will have in our region.”
“Now I am able to build an individual learning plan with each student,” says Amanda. “I make sure they know I am here for them if anything comes up and will do all I can to help them achieve their goals.”
Tutor Tom Barnes, came to OLC looking to add new dimensions to his life following retirement.
Tom recalls he was asking himself, “What do I really want to do and how do I want to help the world?”
Recent Oakland Literacy Council graduate Zaw came to OLC with many goals for learning English, including communicating with coworkers and customers better.
“At my job, I’m alone, so I do not speak much. My department coworkers just say ‘hi’ and not too much else,” says Zaw.
Zaw’s drive to learn and Tom’s drive has been a perfect match for learning and friendship.
Five years ago, Zaw immigrated with his family from Myammar, a country and people now suffering following the recent military coup. In the U.S., Zaw faces a different kind of challenge: learning English while working 50 hours a week as a sushi chef and caring for wife, Le Le, and young son. Zaw and LeLe (also an OLC graduate!) are expecting their second child soon.
Zaw also wanted to improve his English to be able to travel around the U.S. with his family to see places like Niagara Falls. In addition, he wants to be able to go to doctor’s appointments on his own. These appointments require a lot of English communication.
Learning English with Tom has helped Zaw become more confident in speaking English. He can also listen to English and convert what he wants to say from Burmese into English faster than before.
Tom Barnes was a dedicated engineer at Ford for 36 years, enjoying his work and his traveling throughout his career. After retiring at the end of 2020, Tom considered how he would spend his newfound time.
He says that, even though as an engineer he leans toward math, he always thought he wanted to help people read.
“I remember one of the books I read when I was a little kid was about Tom Seaver, the pitcher, in 1969. And having the Guiness Book of World Records and the almanac. [Reading] takes you places; it takes you anywhere.”
Tom feels that through tutoring Zaw he has had his eyes opened and grown more empathetic from seeing how the challenges others face and how he can impact their lives. Tom respects and values Zaw as a friend.
“Zaw’s been the same person the whole time I’ve known him…very dedicated, honest, very reliable…,” says Tom. “He is a fine person.”
Zaw and Tom no longer meet for tutoring, but their friendship continues. They talk regularly and recently played tennis together. Coincidently, they even dressed alike at the OLC graduation in July!
Zaw’s need to learn English brought Tom and Zaw together. Their relationship has made an impact on their lives that is well beyond words.
— With special thanks to Jackson Latek, recent Eastern Michigan University graduate, for helping us tell Zaw and Tom’s story
Recent OLC graduate Asuncion was a process engineer in Mexico. Now she’s ready to resume her profession in the U.S.
Once Asuncion began meeting with a tutor, her reading skills grew quickly but she struggled with listening. In 2021, she even asked for a two-month break from tutoring when she became frustrated after a disappointing test result.
However, with the help of tutor Michele Dragisity, Asuncion persevered and she graduated in March! Asuncion currently works at Marshall’s retail store but is now taking steps to find a job as a production/manufacturing supervisor or process engineer.
Asuncion shared her experience:
“When I arrived in to USA, my friends told me that OLC could help me learn English, they would provide me a tutor to practice, and they told me that OLC was one of the best institutions for adults to learn English, that is why I decided to enter OLC.
OLC was the best school for me because from the beginning they gave me a tutor, it was wonderful for me, with the fact of having a person who taught me only me, this gave me the confidence and certainty that I could do it without fear of people make fun of me for making mistakes, That’s how they helped me learn not only English but also American culture and customs.
My goal is to develop myself in the work environment as an engineer, of course I have the knowledge, but I want to prove to myself that I can work as an engineer in a foreign country and with a different language.”
Asuncion has updated her resume and is beginning her job search. OLC has connected Asuncion with the Troy Michigan Works! office where she can get assistance connecting with employers. Congratulations, Asuncion and Michele!
Empathetic and humble, Oakland Literacy Council (OLC) tutor Tricia Jacobs practices what she preaches – literally.
In the fall of 2020, Tricia moved to Michigan with her family when she became the senior pastor at University Presbyterian Church (UPC) in Rochester Hills. Like most newcomers, she was seeking to get involved in the community and build balance in her life.
“I knew from previous experience as a pastor that the church work can be all consuming, and so I really wanted to do something that was different from going to church meetings,” Tricia explains.
Tricia learned about the opportunity to tutor when OLC Executive Director Lisa Machesky presented to the UPC congregation following a Sunday worship service.
The University Presbyterian Church community is a wonderful partner and advocate for adult literacy. For several years, the congregation has donated a portion of one month’s collections to OLC. The church is sponsoring a refugee family from Afghanistan, and OLC is providing literacy tutoring for family members.
Tricia, along with church member and OLC reading/math tutor Leslie Littell, enrolled in tutor training shortly after the presentation.
Tricia has a unique appreciation for the challenges ESL students face. She was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo where her parents were missionaries.
“I really have an admiration for people who come from another country because I’ve traveled a lot to different countries, and I know how hard it is to adjust to a different language and different culture,” Tricia said.
Tricia was paired with “Julia,” who immigrated from Mexico with her teenage children three years ago. When she enrolled at Oakland Literacy Council in January 2021, Julia’s English reading and listening skills were at the low intermediate level and she had no computer experience.
Julia learned to use the computer provided by OLC. The pair meet twice a week on Zoom – early in the morning before they both go to work. They use the Burlington English online program to practice vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. They keep track of difficult words to pronounce and share a lot of laughs along the way, especially when working on tricky words like “toothache.”
A year later, Julia has progressed to the high intermediate level in listening and the advanced level in reading. She has gained confidence communicating with doctors, teachers, and customers at the barber shop where she works.
Julia is so grateful for Tricia, describing her as “superwoman!” The feeling goes both ways.
“It’s a great way to start my day and I so admire [Julia],” says Tricia. “She’s just such a positive spirit and just her smile encourages me, so it’s been a great joy to know her and to work with her.”
Oakland Literacy Council 51111 Woodward Ave., Suite 720 Pontiac, MI 48342 (248) 253-1617