WAYNE – Literacy Volunteers Fox Valley Board member Ramesh Shah grinned while acknowledging the not-so-subtle message coming from someone at an adjacent table.
The St. Charles-based organization’s Nov. 4 donor breakfast was winding down, and although Shah could have continued speaking, he just needed to conclude his remarks before the gathering at Dunham Woods Riding Club.
With that, Shah stressed once more the merits of Literacy Volunteers’ mission: helping adults read, write and understand English through weekly, one-on-one assistance with volunteer tutors.
“We value every single dollar that we receive,” Literacy Volunteers Executive Director Peg Coker said moments later, “and we will put it to use, absolutely.”
Coker said it costs about $500 annually to support the weekly operation of one tutor-student pair. Funding levels dictate how many people the organization can help each year.
Launched in 1986, Literacy Volunteers first boasted five tutors trained to assist five adult students. These days, it supports about 300 learners annually.
The beginning of the new fiscal year offers promise for continued growth. From July 1 to Oct. 31, Literacy Volunteers enrolled 53 new learners, a 23 percent increase from the same period in 2016. But between rising costs and uncertainty in funding, namely grants, the organization depends on events to help its vitality.
“Many people give one-time contributions, and we’re very, very grateful for them,” Coker said. “But the group of people who are our sustainers pretty much guarantee our future, that we’re going to be around, and we’re grateful for it.”
Keynote speaker Judy Hsu, award-winning news anchor for ABC7-TV in Chicago, shared her personal story with the gathering in a bid to “inspire some of the donors in the room to continue with their financial support,” she said.
Born and raised in Taiwan, Hsu immigrated with her family to Chicago’s Chinatown when she was 11. She recounted the humbling gestures of friends who offered to help her learn English at the library after school to augment her English as a Second Language course studies.
Hsu recalled that the first book she ever received was a dictionary, and how a penchant for reading and writing soon begat a passion for journalism and storytelling. Hsu joined the school newspaper staff during her freshman year at Niles West and began her ascent though the industry.
“Ultimately, I believe in paying it forward, right? And there’s no greater investment, I think, in our community than teaching our neighbors to be literate and become more productive citizens in our community,” Hsu said. “And so what [Literacy Volunteers Fox Valley does] resonates with me personally because I see that the people that they tutor could have easily been me. … If I hadn’t gotten the help when we first immigrated here, I may not be here today.”
The program also included a video testimonial from learner Fredy Rodriguez and his tutor, Literacy Volunteers Treasurer Barry Rose, exploring the elation both have felt through their work and association.
Many stories like it exist, and Coker and others are appreciative of the funding that allows learners to create new ones through the benefits of literacy.
“Certainly, they’ve made progress on standardized tests that tell us what they have gained in language skills and reading skills, but it’s just so much more than a simple English lesson,” Coker said. “People have become better workers and have obtained better employment, more employment. They’ve become more involved parents. They’re able to talk with teachers and participate in the school community, and they’re able to participate in the community more and make better residents, better neighbors, because of the language that they’ve learned.”
To learn more about Literacy Volunteers Fox Valley, how to make a donation or get involved, visit www.lvfv.org or call 630-584-2811.