Updated: Sep 3, 2021
Most of us take the ease of daily living for granted. Can you pick up the phone and make an appointment with a person on the other end? Can you walk into a store and ask the associate to help you look for what you need? Do you know how to fill out important paperwork or applications? Can you the imagine the frustration you would feel every single day if any of these tasks was a struggle?
Lucky for us, we have the Adult Literacy Center of Ozaukee County to aid in solving these issues and more. Housed within Grace Lutheran Church in Grafton, the ALC provides valuable services to local residents, including helping people learn English as a Second Language, assisting those who are trying to achieve U.S. Citizenship, and providing adult tutoring for anyone pursuing a higher degree of education- from a GED or technical school, to four-year college, and even to those attaining their master’s degree who may just need assistance in a specific class. They also help adults with the day to day struggles caused by learning disabilities.
We sat down with ALC’s Executive Director, Sarah Gilday, who says the three main things people don’t realize about the ALC are:
1.) We are here.
2.) We are free.
3.) We offer one-on-one tutoring.
Students are set up with volunteer tutors, who then determine a schedule and location that works best for both parties. ALC assesses the student’s level of skill and records the goals the student sets for themselves.
“We create pathways to help our students achieve their goals,” says Gilday.
Gilday says the program is a win/win for all involved, providing enriching experiences for both the student and the teacher. Tutors often say things like, “I get way more out of the tutoring experience than I feel I give.”
It isn’t unusual for the partnerships to become meaningful friendships. Tutors love the opportunity to learn about other countries and cultures and to help their students become better integrated into their community. Some tutors have even traveled to reunite with their students in their home countries. One student was quoted as saying,
“This tutor changed my life. They are my friend. My tutor threw me a party when I became a citizen.”
Students pay a $25 registration fee and around $30 for books, but, Gilday points out, there are scholarships available if those fees are an issue. There is never a charge for the tutoring sessions.
According to the National Coalition on Literacy: “Improving basic adult education skills could save $200 billion in government support programs. Therefore, improving basic adult education skills has a positive impact on all of us. A better educated workforce means an increase in workplace efficiency, higher income, families who are more independent, and children with a brighter future.”
“We’re an important asset to the community and we are only able to exist through philanthropy,” says Gilday.
ALC’s biggest fundraiser of the year is coming up September 19-25, 2021, which coincides with National Adult Literacy Week. ALC will be sharing five video stories of students and tutors. Each story features a corporate sponsor who matches all donations given that day. Gilday noted that there are a few corporate sponsorships remaining for interested businesses. Donations can also be made any time on their website: www.adultliteracyoz.org
Below: 2020 testimonial video from two ALC students, Natalya & Sergey.
ALC is gifted rent-free space, utilities and financial support from Grace Lutheran Church in Grafton, which started the ALC in 1988 as a means of helping people learn how to read, speak English, and fill out job applications. Today, United Way of Northern Ozaukee County is also a major supporter.
ALC is continually seeking both students and tutors. ALC tutors are willing to visit corporations and help employees improve their basic skills, gain confidence and be able to grow in their current position. They are hoping to expand more into Northern Ozaukee County and west into Washington County.
While many retired educators enjoy being tutors for ALC, there are no education requirements to be a tutor- just people with a good heart and desire to help others.
“You get to provide the key that opens the door to individuals pursuing their dreams,” reminds Gilday.
The next training session for interested tutors is October 2, 2021 from 9 am – 12 pm. Tutors are only asked for 2-3 hours of service each week, and are paired appropriately with students to meet their needs. Tutors are not required to speak a second language. ALC provides all the materials that will be needed.
Below: 2020 testimonial video from Sudeshna, an ALC tutor.
The pandemic has made ALC’s services more critical than ever. Gilday first started at ALC in May, 2020 as the nation was moving into lockdown. She notes that her colleague, Katie Eippert, ALC Program Director, quickly helped tutors transition to virtual learning and worked with students to set up technology. She says it was also important to help students navigate health literacy education so people would know how to get tested and find and understand information about the virus.
“Tutors became a lifeline for families who didn’t speak English as their first language to navigate the pandemic,” she stated.
Eippert even helped to start an ALC book club for the first time as a means for people to stay connected. As students are often new to their community, this club helped combat loneliness during that difficult time. Today it is just as important to aid students as they seek education on the vaccine and determine where and how to get it.
Gilday becoming the ALC’s ED may have been fate. She came to ALC with more than 20 years of nonprofit experience in Milwaukee, but was amused to realize she had come full circle in life, as her mother also built her career in adult literacy, working in Stevens Point at Mid-State Technical College’s Goal Program.
Gilday says she was really happy to call her mom and say “I ended up in the same place you built your career.” She is enjoying the opportunity to make a difference through literacy and loves Ozaukee County, saying, “People are quick to return your phone calls, they are nice, and people take the time to get to know each other.”