It’s Adult Education and Family Literacy Week!

Vernetta and BorisToday marks the kickoff of Adult Education and Family Literacy (AEFL) week, a weeklong awareness campaign with activities, toolkits, and information about the great need for literacy programs that serve adult learners. 36 million adults in the United States struggle with literacy, which has an effect on every portion of their lives from employability to civic participation. AEFL week was designated by the United States Congress, and is organized annually by the National Coalition for Literacy and its purpose is not only to raise awareness of the issue of Adult Literacy, but also to celebrate learners who pursue the goal of becoming literate citizens alongside all of the other issues that keep them from living out their dreams.

We at Literacy Mid-South, and you, readers of this blog, know how severe the costs of low literacy are to low literate adults themselves and for us as the public. But not everyone is aware of the costs, or of the unique trials that low literate adults face. In the Mid-South, the toll of low literacy is high. Low literate adults stand to make less money for themselves and their families over the courses of their lives. They may have difficulty even finding employment, or paying bills, or taking prescription medicine, or reading their childrens’ homework–the list is long and varied.

Adult Education and Family Literacy week is also about engaging the public in the issue of adult literacy on multiple levels. For Literacy Mid-South, as a service provider, our responsibility is to share information on either learners or a partner that is doing great work, and we’ll do that soon. For supporters and those who believe in Literacy Mid-South’s Mission, your responsibility (should you choose to accept it) is reaching out to policymakers and spreading awareness to your networks on the issues that low-literate adults face. You can do this many ways: through pointing people that you know to our blog or website, through writing an opinion piece about the issue to your local newspaper, or by writing a letter to your city, county, and state representatives.

If you need any assistance with writing letter or opinion pieces, the National Coalition for Literacy has some templates and a resource guide that you can use. If you want more information about the work that Literacy Mid-South does, check out our website. You can make a donation there as well. And if you would like to visit us and learn more about what we do first-hand, reach out. Call (901) 327-6000 to schedule an information session with Adult Learning Program staff.


#MSBF2016 Is Almost Here!


We are less than three weeks away from the third annual Mid-South Book Festival, and this year promises to be a spectacular affair. But we realize that there are some of you who might not know how the Mid-South Book Festival works. Maybe you weren’t able to come out last year, or maybe you came late, or maybe this year will be your first year showing up, and you have questions.

We get it.

Because we’re so nice, we at Literacy Mid-South are going to run down the basics of the 2016 Mid-South Book Festival. We hope that this post will answer all of your basic questions, but we’re not going to spoil everything for you; some of this you’ll have to show up to see.

Wednesday, September 7th: MSBF 2016 Literacy Summit

MSBF 2015 Literacy Summit

The Literacy Summit kicks off the Mid-South Book Festival, and is geared toward educators and literacy professionals. At the summit, nonprofit and government agencies, community advocates, volunteers and adult learners show up to a series of workshops to network, develop new skills and share promising practices. There’s also a keynote speaker at every Literacy Summit, usually someone who’s proven that they kick butt when it comes to promoting literacy and developing ways to help create literate citizens.

This year’s keynote speaker is Yolie Flores, who is the Chief Program Officer with the Campaign for Grade Level Reading. Ms. Flores has kicked lots of butt to ensure that more children from low income families succeed in school.

You can secure your spot at the Literacy Summit by clicking here.

Thursday, September 8th – Jacqueline Woodson at story booth

On September 8th, (amazing famous author) Jacqueline Woodson will be appearing at story booth in Crosstown Arts for a reading and signing. The public is welcome to show up at this, and it starts at 6:00 PM.

Friday, September 9th – Words Matter

Words Matter a VIP event for avid readers and literature lovers! You’ll be able to drink and schmooze with the featured Mid-South Book Festival Authors. There will also be live music, food, and other literary personalities.

Click here to get your ticket to Words Matter!

Saturday, September 10th – Mid-South Book Festival and Street Fair

Mid South Book Festival Street Fair VendorsThe Big Day! Authors, Bloggers, Publishers, Vendors, and the Public will all converge on Playhouse on the Square and the Circuit Playhouse for a whole day of literary fun. There will be panel discussions, author spotlights, and a street fair filled with vendors and community organizations for you to peruse.

Stop into a panel discussion and get the chance to talk to your favorite authors. Then, visit the food trucks at the street fair to refuel before catching a session of  Impossible Language or The Word in the Playhouse on the Square Cafe. Then stop by Burke’s or The Booksellers at Laurelwood’s vendor tables and grab a book or three.

All ages are welcome at the Mid-South Book Festival, and it’s completely free!

Sunday, September 11th – The Student Writers’ Conference

Sunday, teen writers can join Heather Dobbins and other instructors to learn the basics of writing for an audience, as well as other tips and tools for crafting the perfect story.

Sorry, budding adult authors: this event is only for writers ages 12-17.

Register for the Student Writer’s Conference by clicking here!

The Mid-South book festival will be great literary fun for the entire family. We hope to see you there! Click here if you want to volunteer at the Mid-South Book Festival, and visit the Mid-South Book Festival website for more information.



10 Things that Literate People Can Take For Granted

It’s a safe bet that if you clicked the link to visit this post, you’re able to read. Learning that people aren’t able to read and write is usually a shocking experience. For many of us, reading and writing is something that everyone is able to do, something that is as natural as breathing. However, statistics show that this is not the case. Almost 30% of Mid-Southerners are unable to read at a 3rd grade level.

Even if someone reads at or above a third grade level, they can still face problems–most things that we read in our daily lives are written for intermediate or advanced readers. As a literacy organization, part of our work is to create understanding between those people who are able to function as literate citizens, and those who are not. So today, we’ll be listing the top 10 things that literate people can take for granted. This is not a list to shame people for being able to read. Instead, think of it as a spotlight that shows some tasks and activities that are difficult for the people that we serve.

reading black woman1. The Joy of Reading for Pleasure

How do you feel when you hear that your favorite author has written a new book? Or when you snap open a newspaper and settle down to read the news? For low literate people, reading for the sheer pleasure of reading is difficult to impossible.

2. Navigating Roads and Cities

It took us by shock when we realized how dependent we are on street signs, text-based landmarks, and our navigation systems to navigate roads and streets. Low literate individuals have to rely on coping strategies such as visual markers and route memorization.

3. Ordering Food From a Text-Only Menu

When a restaurant menu is text only, it can be difficult for low-literate adults to figure out what certain foods are, or what their ingredients are. This can cause a problem with enjoying food or with low literate adults who have food allergies, among other things.

4. Researching Information Online

While low literate adults can possess some savviness with mobile phones and technology, that skill is limited by their reading ability. When it comes to finding information about important things online, low literate adults can face significant difficulties locating information and understanding the information that they are able to find is a problem as well.

5. Working in your desired field

Literate individuals have the ability to search for jobs that they want and the educational qualifications to actually stand a chance at getting jobs that they want. Low literate individuals, however, are most often relegated to service careers which, while important, tend to be temporary and unfulfilling.

homework help

6. Helping Children With Homework

One of the most frequent goals of the low literate adults that we serve is the desire to help their children with their homework. Without the ability to read at an adequate level, many low literate adults are unable to help their children complete their homework assignments, which also has an effect on their children’s educational attainment.

7. The Ability to Pursue Niche Education Opportunities

Speaking of education, one of the cool things about the these days is that literate people can pursue all kinds of nontraditional educational opportunities, like online education, auditing university courses, and education via mobile apps. Low literate people are frequently unable to take advantage of these educational opportunities.

8. Voting

Voting is a massively important tool for creating social changes. And while low literate adults can gain understanding about candidates and issues via conversations, their reading ability can block them from gaining that deeper understanding and reaching truth about the stances of candidates and how issues affect them.

9. Receiving Birthday Cards

Even though a birthday card isn’t a complex work of literature, it can still be a difficult task to read the short messages on birthday cards. This can ruin the enjoyment of receiving them. Fortunately, you can always put money in birthday cards.

Vernetta and Boris10. Agency in Interacting with the World

Ultimately, one of the biggest privileges that literacy grants people is the ability to obtain enough information to choose their course in life. Whatever course a literate person decides to take, as long as they’ve bothered to inform themselves on it (and it is something that they can actually control), they have agency in the direction that they’ve decided to go. For low literate adults, much of the agency that information via literacy would provide to them is lost. Therefore, it is important for literate adults and the literate society at large to attempt to change things for the better. Without our help, low literate adults face countless difficulties in navigating our rapidly evolving worlds. And without the ability to make sense of the information presented around them, they lose out on pursuing and attaining their dreams.

Literacy Mid-South provides literacy resources to Mid-South learners of all ages and backgrounds. Our vision is 100% literacy in the Mid-South. Visit our website to learn more about our programs and mission. 

People of Literacy Mid-South: Seeding Success

People of Literacy Mid-South is a column that takes a close look at the folks that make our organization tick. But today, we’re not looking at a person. Instead, we’re discussing an organization whose support and guidance is valuable to Literacy Mid-South.

seeding success

Seeding Success is not an organization that directly serves individuals. Instead, Seeding Success focuses on helping organizations be more effective in serving their communities. Seeding Success works to create collaborative partnerships, called Collaborative Action Networks (CANs for short) that focus on a particular service area. In their own words:

The Seeding Success Partnership collaborates to ensure every child graduates high school prepared for college, career and success in life.

Seeding Success pulls together K-12 institutions, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and countless other types of organizations to work pursuing equitable educational outcomes for children. The organizations that Seeding Success organizes into CANs agree to focus on a set of goals that are developed beneath the umbrella of Seeding Success’ larger organizational goals:

  • GOAL 1: Every child is prepared for success in school;
  • GOAL 2: Every student is successful in school and graduates prepared for college, career, and success in life;
  • GOAL 3: Every youth who is not in school reconnects to education, training, or employment opportunities;
  • GOAL 4: Every young adult has access to a post-secondary opportunity or career.

These goals are put into practice by arranging the CANs to focus on one of eight academic outcomes. The outcomes that Seeding Success and their organizational CANs are attempting to influence are: Kindergarten Readiness, Third Grade Reading Proficiency, Middle School Math Proficiency, College and Career Readiness, High School Graduation rates, Access to Post Secondary opportunities and attainment of success at those Post Secondary opportunities, and a focus on providing educational and career opportunities to Opportunity Youth. Each CAN works together to provide research informed strategies to impact these areas and ensure that children and young adults will lead successful lives.

education studyingLiteracy Mid-South has a presence in two of those CANs. We are the convener of the Third Grade Reading Proficiency CAN, and we provide space and support to organizations who collaborate to improve the rates of reading proficiency at grade 3 for every Shelby County child. The CAN focuses on three areas that impact reading proficiency for grade 3 students: attendance, literacy, and psychological barriers. The CAN has made vision screenings available for hundreds of grade 3 students through a partnership with the Southern College of Optometry, as well as provided books and literacy instruction to thousands of students through Literacy Mid-South’s Summer Reading Program.

Literacy Mid-South’s Adult Learning Program is involved in the Opportunity Youth CAN, a CAN dedicated to connecting roughly 40,000 local young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not connected to education or employment programs with gainful employment and education opportunities. The Workforce Investment Network is the convener of this CAN, and it includes partnerships with the Memphis Goodwill Excel Center, ResCare, and the Tennessee Department of Corrections. The CAN has gathered focus group data from former Opportunity Youth and is now developing a report based on the findings.

Seeding Success connects organizations that work in similar impact areas with each other and allows them to exponentially increase their reach and effectiveness. Without Seeding Success’ unique approach to collaboration, many organizations who are working to make Memphis a better place would be shouldering their burdens alone.

Literacy Mid-South provides literacy resources to Mid-South learners of all ages and backgrounds. Our vision is 100% literacy in the Mid-South. Visit our website to learn more about our programs and mission.


AmeriCorps Vista Summer Associates Are Working to Create a More Literate Mid-South


In our post “Summer Reading With Literacy Mid-South,” we discussed a phenomenon called Summer Slide. Here’s its basic premise: students who don’t engage in educational opportunities during summer vacation risk losing some of the academic gains that they made during the school year. An active summer with reading and literacy focused activities can assist students in retaining key reading abilities, and in some cases, can even help to address the achievement gap. For the past year, Literacy Mid-South has been building and implementing a summer reading program in collaboration with several community partners from all over Memphis. The summer reading program is currently serving thousands of children, providing them with books and reading instruction throughout their summer vacation.

IMG_0028In order to reach over 3000 students and serve 30 organizations, AmeriCorps VISTA provided Literacy Mid-South with 20 Summer Associates who are committed to the cause.  The VISTA members were trained, and provided with the skills they needed to help attack this issue. These AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates are Mid-Southerners dedicated not only to improving summer reading, but also to impressing upon the community the importance of literacy. Each Summer Associate works at a different community partner’s site, and performs reading pre- and post-assessments, serves as a point of contact between the community partner and Literacy Mid-South, and helps to deepen the community partner’s understanding of the importance of ongoing literacy skills training.

Esther Kang, an AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate serving at W. H. Brewster Elementary School, thinks that this program is very necessary. During her time there, Esther has gotten to know Memphis a little bit better, and also has gained a deeper understanding of the need for reading intervention. She’s found the work at her site “refreshing, frustrating, and challenging,” but says that it’s a great program. Esther’s most impactful moment was working with a student who read at a significantly lower level than he needed to for school.

“He was just so grateful for the attention and positive reinforcement,” Esther said. “And it’s helped his self-esteem and changed his perspective of reading and learning.”


Rodney Frison is a Human Services Major at the University of Memphis, and serves at the YMCA Davis site housed at Riverside Missionary Baptist Church. Rodney does not have a background in education, and this was actually his first time working with children in this type of program.

“Now, I can definitely see the need for literacy services,” Rodney said. His time as an AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate has taught him more about the power of networking and taking a collaborative approach to solving community issues. And for Rodney, the most powerful collaboration that he’s seen is with parents. “We’re establishing reading as an at-home thing too.”

Alexandria Wallace, a Music Education major at the Universty of Memphis and Summer Associate at Knowledge Quest, was initially nervous about starting work in an area of the city so different from where she’d grown up. She was suprised at how engaged the entire community, particularly the parents and children, was in her work.

Serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate with the Literacy Mid-South summer reading program has affected Alexandria’s career goals. She’s thinking about the impact that education can have on children, and is perhaps considering a change of major.

“Now that I see how much these kids need a fantastic education, I want to help.”

Literacy Mid-South provides literacy resources to Mid-South learners of all ages and backgrounds. Our vision is 100% literacy in the Mid-South. Visit our website to learn more about our programs and mission. 


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.