People of Literacy Mid-South: Meet Lee


People of Literacy Mid-South is a column that takes a close look at the folks that make our organization tick.

This week we’re talking to Lee Chase IV, Special Projects Coordinator for Literacy Mid-South. Lee has been a volunteer tutor since 2012, and is also a freelance writer and filmmaker. Before joining Literacy Mid-South, Lee was an Account Manager for, an online printing company. He also has experience writing and developing corporate training courses for adult learners. Lee graduated from Christian Brothers University with a BA in English. Lee is a certified ESL trainer by ProLiteracy and a graduate of Leadership Memphis’ Fast Track program.

If you had to describe yourself in three words, what three words would you choose?

Dedicated, Empathetic, Silly

How did you start working with Literacy Mid-South?

I started as a tutor in 2012, so I was familiar with the organization and had a lot of admiration for what they were doing. I was miserable in my last job and the amount of anxiety it gave me was unbearable. I had spent the past seven years as an account manager, and even though I didn’t have a passion for it, I wasn’t sure what else I was going to do since that is where my experience was. But then the listing came up that Literacy Mid-South was looking for an Adult Learning Coordinator, and even though I had never worked in non-profit before and it would be a hefty pay cut, I decided to give it a whirl. It came down between me and one other person, but Kevin wanted to hire us both, so he made Troy Wiggins the Adult Learning Coordinator and created a position for me. It doesn’t get much more flattering than that!

What kind of work do you do for Literacy Mid-South?

I have been referred to on occasion as “Mr. Many Hats.” My original title when hired was Workplace Literacy Coordinator, which required me to develop a program to provide on site training at local area businesses to the employees who struggle with English. All the curriculum is designed to help improve job performance, reduce turnover, and inspire confidence. The program is called Memphis Mobile Workforce, and I completed a 10 week pilot run last month. In addition to that, I am also helping plan this year’s Mid-South Book Festival by being the main contact for authors and vendors, as well as coordinating the opening night reception and street fair. If time permits, I also assist with the Summer Reading Program when they need an extra hand. Like I said, I wear many hats!

What is one of the biggest educational challenges that Memphis faces?

unnamedWhile I was developing Memphis Mobile Workforce, I met with a number of local organizations who stressed just how many foreign born people in our city lack English skills. Many of them have jobs and are able to perform their duties well, but there is a large communication barrier with co-workers and supervisors, and there are safety concerns that come with not understanding English. But the business has to be willing to invest in their employees too. Some of the businesses I have spoken with have shown interest, but others just do not see it as a priority. We have to find a way to change that, to prove to employers that their staff are people and that these English skills will show positive growth not only in their job but also their everyday lives.

Tell us about one time where you really felt like your work really helped to make a difference in the Mid-South.

My proudest moment thus far was in the middle of the pilot for Memphis Mobile Workforce. I gave the class the same assessment four weeks in that they took on the first day, and the average score shot up 69%! I was so proud of them! A close second would be when an employee with the pilot site company told me that one of the learners who used to never speak to him was trying to start conversations! These were the first real results I got to see, and they truly showed the power of what this program can do.

Would you switch roles with any other Literacy Mid-South employee? If so, who would you switch with?

I love being able to learn about what everyone on the staff is doing and how each of their programs work, but I wouldn’t want to switch roles. At this point, I am exactly where I need to be and for that, I am extremely grateful. Doesn’t mean I won’t be ready down the road, but I still have a lot to learn.

Describe what happens on a typical day off for you.

Movies, movies, movies! I am movie obsessed, so I try to squeeze in as many movies as I can when I have free time. That can be going to the theater or watching something at home. I am also prepping to direct a movie based on a screenplay I wrote, which is taking up a lot of my time. Sunday nights are reserved for a meal and usually a movie (surprise!) with my parents. I should mention that I do try to read as well, although my stack of books does not seem to be getting any smaller!

If you could make everyone on earth read one book, what book would you choose?

Man, that’s tough! I’d have to go with The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin. I have read it probably ten times, and it still makes me laugh out loud. You can see so much of Martin’s personality in the writing. It’s the perfect safety book if I’m craving something to read because it’s short and there is at least one priceless moment on every page.

What celebrity do people say you resemble? Do you agree with them?

MobyBeing told I look like Moby has been the story of my life! I used to get it on an almost daily basis. About five years ago, I was at Alfred’s on Beale and some tourists actually thought I was Moby and asked me to take a picture with them! There was even a case recently where a picture of Moby was accidentally used to represent me and people I know didn’t even realize it was not me! So, I guess it’s kind of hard for me to say I don’t see the resemblance, although there are days when I consider growing my hair back so I can get a new doppelganger.

What Literacy Mid-South event are you most looking forward to in 2016?

The Mid-South Book Festival, without question! Partially because I am putting so much work into it, but mostly because it is such an exciting event. It is a genuine thrill to bring the community together to collectively share a passion for reading and writing, the bonus being that the festival appeals to all ages! Also, it is an absolute joy for us as a staff since we get to work together to pull the whole thing off. On top of that, there are some incredible new additions to this year’s festival to go along with the exceptional author line up and panels! There will definitely be something for everyone, and I’m quite proud of that.

The 2016  Mid-South Book Festival is only months away! It’s free and open to the public, and children are welcome. Check out the presenting authors, and follow Literacy Mid-South and The Mid-South Book Festival on Twitter for more information and updates.


Literacy Mid-South Learner Obtains Driver’s License After Ten Years of Attempts

driving now

Literacy Mid-South’s Adult Learning Program helps adults to read, but reading just the tip of the iceberg of the services that we provide. For many of our adult learners, learning how to read is one piece to unlocking a larger tapestry of goals. Our learners have many sub-goals, such as obtaining their United States citizenship, getting their GEDs, helping their children with their homework, and even obtaining their drivers’ licenses.

This last goal is especially important. Many of our learners have obligations that require them to move to various locations around the city. Whether it’s picking up children from school, getting to work, or even getting to appointments with their tutors, the ability to drive without having to worry about being in violation of the law is very important. So many of our learners who are able to drive have been unable to obtain their drivers’ licenses despite repeated attempts. For one of our learners, however, getting a drivers’ license is no longer a dream.

After ten years of attempts, Literacy Mid-South learner Osamede O. has obtained her Tennessee Driver’s license. According to her tutor, LaDean, Osamede was becoming somewhat discouraged at the constant attempts to obtain her license. Osamaede is a mother who works full time. Her job is not especially close to her home. Without a driver’s license, traveling around the city is especially difficult for Osamede, who is reluctant to drive without the proper credentials for fear of being stopped by the police. But now, Osamede can breathe easy.

After all of the attempts, Osamede was familiar with the exam’s content, but her problem seemed to be tying the different concepts together. LaDean recognized this as Osamede’s difficulty early in their sessions and developed a focused plan of study that took into account Osamede’s familiarity of the subject matter and adapted it using her own extensive experience with adult education.

These are the kinds of experiences and successes that we work for at Literacy Mid-South. We are always extremely excited to see our learners succeed because we know that their successes translate to a more fulfilling life for them. We are so proud of Osamede and grateful to LaDean for her dedication to her learner.

Stay tuned to the Literacy Mid-South blog for more information on our programs, developments, and events. 

People of Literacy Mid-South: Meet Dominique

Rhodes Literacy Memphis_P3A7318

People of Literacy Mid-South is a column that takes a close look at the folks that make our organization tick.

This week, we’re talking to Dominique DeFreece, Summer Service Fellow for Literacy Mid-South’s Adult Learning Program. Dominique is from Delhi, New York and is a sophomore at Rhodes College. She is an International Studies and History bridge major, with a minor in Urban Studies. We’ve only had Dominique around for a short while, but she’s already proven herself a wonderful addition to the organization!

How did you start working with Literacy Mid-South?

In the fall of 2015 I saw that Literacy Mid-South was having a training session for new volunteer tutors. I decided to sign up to be a volunteer tutor because I was interested in helping adults learn how to read and write. Many people forget that things we do every day like understanding streets signs and filling out a job application involves literacy capabilities. After going through the training I was super stoked and decided I would take on two English Language Learners. I wanted to help Literacy Mid-South more, so I suggested that I be taken on as a Summer Service Fellow.

What kind of work do you do for Literacy Mid-South?

I am currently working on a literacy toolkit to be used with learners whose reading grade equivalency levels range from the 5th to 12th grade. I am looking forward to getting the toolkit to a point where we can test it out and see how learners can use it. This is super exciting to me because it’s something tangible that can benefit others. I’ve also been performing some other duties like revamping the handbooks that each adult learner receives. I’ve been attending the intake sessions for new learners as well.

What do you do on a typical day off?

There is no typical day in the life of Dominique–or as the people at Lenny’s Sub Shop like to call me, Dominam. [This really happened. We have receipts. – Ed.]

But seriously, I usually wake up at about 9:30 and get some brunch: my favorites are pancakes, eggs, and bacon. Then I might read a book or listen to some music. I like exploring Memphis, so then I might catch an Uber down town and window-shop or listen to some live music. Then I would have a snack and take an afternoon siesta. At night I would probably go for a walk through Overton park, hang out with friends, go bowling, or catch a Levitt shell concert.

You’ve only been working with Literacy Mid-South for a little while. What has been your favorite thing about the job so far?

My favorite part has been hanging out with Troy! No, I’m kidding.

So far I have enjoyed the office atmosphere at Literacy Mid-South. It’s really laid back, and I get to work independently. Also, everyone has been really nice. My favorite part of my work so far was sitting in on a meeting with a student who wanted to develop a middle school/high school reading/mentorship group. Before that I was unsure of who could use and benefit from my literacy toolkit. After that meeting though, I am really seeing the need for literacy resources that focus on middle school and high school level readers. I hope that my toolkit will benefit these individuals.

Describe your dream career. What would you be doing?

In my dream job, I would be the Secretary General of the UN. Watch out Ban Ki Moon! I would be responsible for holding the UN general assembly accountable, and trying to implement goals and projects that would benefit the entire planet. One of my main foci would be the education of girls and women around the world.

Dear White AmericaWhat is the last book you read?

Dear White America, Letter To A New Minority by Tim Wise. It’s a great book that EVERYONE should read.

What do you like most about living in Memphis?

I like how Memphis feels like a small town with big city resources. You can go almost anywhere and Memphis and see kind and familiar faces. Last week I was at the Shell and saw at least ten people I know. Unlike bigger cities, Memphis feels very open and accepting no matter where you are.

You have to live the rest of your life as a fruit–what fruit would you be and why?

I would be a Durian because no one wants to eat a Durian.

Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.

……I’m vertically challenged.

Is the book better than the movie?

Yes. Movies always let me down.



Our Fifth Annual Literatini event is less than six hours away! Buy your tickets now! We’ll see you there. 

People of Literacy Mid-South: Meet Courtney

courtneymillersantoOur column People of Literacy Mid-South has introduced you to several of the staff members that make Literacy Mid-South tick, but we want you to get to know some of our board members, volunteers, and partner organizations as well. We wouldn’t be nearly as awesome without them and their work.

This week we’re profiling Courtney Miller Santo, a native Oregonian who’s made Memphis her home. Courtney is an English professor, a prolific author, and an all around great person. Find out more about her below.

What kind of work do you on behalf of Literacy Mid-South?

I am currently a member of Literacy Mid-South’s advisory board and I serve as co-chair of the Mid-South Book Festival.

How did you start working with Literacy Mid-South?

I spoke at the Literacy is Key Luncheon a few years ago, and I became aware of the organization and the fantastic work it does in our community. I immediately volunteered to help Literacy Mid-South in any way I could. Shortly thereafter I was approached to help with the Mid-South Book Festival.

What has been your favorite Literacy Mid-South related project or event?

Hands down the Mid-South Book Festival.

How do you think we can foster a love of reading and writing in Memphis?

Don’t apologize for what you’re reading. Embrace it. Are you reading about dragons to escape? That’s fantastic. Are you reading about how to be a better parent? That’s fantastic. Are you reading to impress someone? That’s less fantastic, but at least you are reading. Are you reading video game magazines? That still counts. Did you read an article on Buzzfeed today? Totally reading and totally awesome. This idea that the world is divided into people who like to read and those who don’t enjoy it is nonsense. Reading happens all the time. Find what you love to read and do more of it. I wish we would stop telling young readers and new readers that there are REAL books and once they tackle Ulysses or Moby Dick, then they’ll understand. Books are not hierarchies, they are oceans you swim around in.

What’s the last book that you read?

Do audio books count? [They totally count. – Ed.] I listened to Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence recently during a long drive and I was blown away by how incredible it is and how relevant. I’d only ever read Ethan Frome, which while well-written isn’t the same sort of book. It’s a little like seeing Atlanta and thinking you’ve seen all that the U.S. has to offer. The Age of Innocence is New York City, literally (it is set there) and figuratively.

Is there any book that you’d like to recommend to our readers?

I also just finished Landline by Rainbow Rowell and it was one of those perfect, happy, sweet little books that are so satisfying. It is charming and would be a great read for just about anybody—especially a somebody headed off for vacation.

What’s your favorite thing about being a Memphis-based writer?

This city! I am one of those writers who begins and ends and fills all the space in the middle with setting. Living in this vibrant, authentic, delicious city makes it easy to write. Sometimes, especially during that beautiful spring we just had, I have to sit by an open window and write. Or I curl up out on our patio, which backs up to the greenline and a golf course and I listen to all the people riding their bikes, walking dogs, running, along the trail and just let that seep into my sentences. There is such a tradition of storytelling in this city—musicians have known this since the first bluesman walked our particular stretch of the Mississippi river, but artists know it too, and there are so many great writers here.

Is the book always better than the movie?

Yes, but I always go and see the movie. What does that mean?

If you haven’t marked your calendar for September 10th, go ahead and do it now! The Mid-South Book Festival is only months away, and it’s going to be amazing! It’s also free and open to the public, and children are welcome. For more information, visit