Shawano County Literacy Council, a volunteer run council nestled in rural Wisconsin, works with English language learners and adults who want to improve their reading and writing, many of whom work on farms. They also collaborate with the local technical college. Gini, a volunteer who has been with the council since the beginning, said, “[The Technical College] calls us and asks us for help with reading and writing basic English. They have asked for help with HSED students.”
With volunteer dedication, they are 27 years strong. “I’m proud of the dedication of our tutors especially during the pandemic this past year. Even though the majority of us are technologically challenged somewhat ourselves, we navigated tutoring virtually with willingness and a can do spirit,” says Melody Boyd, Board Chair and tutor.
During the pandemic, they provided Chromebooks (some from Wisconsin Literacy) and refurbished laptops to some of their learners. Currently, Shawano County Literacy Council is exploring connectivity options for their students. “We realized for the future, too, that virtual learning is here to stay; and actually we find that we can reach more students that way,” Melody said.
Being rural, they work with students from large farms such as Green Valley Farms. Tutors who work with those students focus on farm related terms to improve the communication between the farm workers and owners.
Farm work can be 12 hour days. Before virtual instructions, students, exhausted after a long day of work, had to drive 40 minutes into town to meet with their tutors. Now, they can connect remotely and more easily include instruction into their work and home lives.
Melody explained, “We are still learning ourselves. Most of the tutors who are tutoring virtually are doing it via Zoom or Google Meets or whatever really works for the learner. It’s exciting and we are learning right along with them.”
Literacy skills strengthen their community overall. Their students own businesses including a restaurant, a grocery store, a landscaping company and a bakery. Many students continue on to higher education and get job promotions. With their improved literacy skills, they attend school conferences and understand more about their children’s education.
Gini shared why she’s worked with the council for 27 years:
I love reading. If you can read, you can do anything! I enjoy the relationships I have with my students. It gives me great joy to see the lightbulb come on. The greatest thing my first student ever said to me was ‘Gini, I don’t think I need you anymore.’ And that’s my goal.
The Shawano County Literacy Council is a non-profit organization that provides a free, confidential service to teach non-reading adults to read and speak English.
Why read? Why do I need to read well? What is the purpose of reading? Over the years I have
talked with a good number of people who have no interest in reading, let alone reading well.
This generally surprises me, but perhaps it should not as everyone has a reason for not liking
to read or for loving the enjoyment of the written word.
I grew up living out in the country on a dirt road. Dad taught school and farmed. We rarely had
a working television. As a child, I though this was archaic, but it turned out to be such a
wonderful blessing. We somehow had a bookcase full of books. Old books, but books none-
the-less. I was in “bookworm” heaven! Since I was the oldest, I often had a younger sister or
brother tug on my sleeve and say, plaintively, “Can you read to me?” The dramatist in me was
delighted. Mom would find all four of us children sitting together on my bed upstairs, siblings
sitting with rapt faces as I dramatized the story from Grimm’s Fairytales or Anderson’s Fairytales.
This time together is what I hear the most about our childhood. We each still are voracious readers.
Now, back to the question of READING! WHO NEEDS IT? Reading opens up foreign shores; it
opens up ancient lands; it shares the lifestyle of people we could never meet; it widens our
horizons beyond the thirty-mile radius in which we live; reading shows us the past; it shows us
the possibilities of the future; reading allows us a respite from the work-a-day life we live; and
reading insures that we are well informed. Reading also brings respite to the
spirit and the mind. It is a vacation bound in a book of any size or shape or subject.
Why do I need to read well? Let me take the opposite viewpoint for a few seconds. Not being
able to read well puts limits on your ability to function and navigate well in the world around
you. Reading feeds your mind, your spirit, your intellect, your ability to share important
information. Simply put…reading well allows your world to be much larger than what you hear
or view on TV, radio, Facebook, Twitter, You Tube or other auditory outlets.
What is the purpose of reading? Have you ever wondered why an event in history has taken
place, or why Potato Bugs suddenly show up on your plants, or why or how or when… ? I
had little interest in history in high school. Boring! Or so I thought. Reading has opened the
doors to a myriad of topics. How does a Dyslexic person learn? Why did America ever get
involved in Viet Nam? Who started WW I ? Why did Nero burn his city down? How do I help
a child with ADHD? How can I make a new lining for a winter coat that shows no wear on the
outside? Read for information. Read for knowledge. Read for sheer enjoyment.
The great news is that we, at the Shawano County Literacy Council, are standing by ready to
help you or someone you know, to learn English better, to study and prepare for taking the
Citizenship Test, or to help in adult education to read and write better. Whatever it is that
you are preparing for or hoping to achieve, let us aid you on your way! Give us a call.
A bit about the author: Karen Milligan began teaching at 14 years of age when she was hired
to help with Summer School at a Four-room country school. She attended Bob Jones University,
graduating with a B.A. in Speech Education. She taught for several years and then earned a
Master’s Degree in Education. Teaching and sharing ideas and knowledge has been a life-long
pursuit of 40 years duration. Now, she enjoys tutoring privately and with the Shawano Literacy Council.
Other interests are gardening, walking, reading, sewing, Editing, drawing illustrations for
children’s books and dramatizing story-time for the children at her church.