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One Person, One Organization... Many Lives


One Person, One Organization... Many Lives

“One page, one book, one life at a time” is the motto of Literacy Services of Indian River County in Florida. Add to that motto: “One staff member.” Mary Silva is more than just executive director of Literacy Services of IRC. She is program director, events coordinator, webmaster, fundraiser, accountant, and administrative assistant. In short, she is a one-woman show, coordinating 85 volunteers who serve 118 students. The program runs a waiting list of about 30 people, though Silva wishes that wasn’t the case.

“It’s unfortunate to keep people on a waiting list,” she says. “Literacy students are inclined to give up if they are not served immediately.”

Literacy Services of IRC serves adult learners in a very challenging time. The unemployment rate in the county is 14 percent—well above the national average. Silva has even seen tutors have to stop volunteering because of lost jobs. As a consequence of the strained economy, the organization’s donor base is also preoccupied. In the last few years, donors have been focused on making sure area residents have food and shelter versus access to literacy and basic education resources.

Despite these odds, Silva manages to raise roughly $85,000 every year to keep her program running (her goal is an annual revenue of $160,000). She has also been able to quadruple the number of students served since assuming her role in 2005 simply by professionalizing some of the fundraising events and training workshops.  

She has also begun a new partnership to start a “Read to Babies” program that simultaneously donates books to children and encourages parents to take part in adult literacy programs.

Silva has other plans in store for the program—some of them big. An April 15 fundraiser will feature a keynote speaker from Dublin, Ireland, and an April 17 fundraiser will include music by Sylvie Lewis and Soulfege. Looking further ahead, once she reaches her revenue goal, she will be able to hire a program director, which will help double the number of students served.

Until then, Silva is inspired by and takes great pride in student accomplishments. The program’s 2010 Student of the Year gained literacy in order to find better employment. She went from grueling, seasonal work in the packing industry to finding a job in the restaurant industry. And the 2011 Student of the Year, who wishes to remain anonymous, learned to read so she could in turn teach her children to read, as well as participate more fully in their schooling.

Like most adult learners, Literacy Services of Indian River County students fit in their classes between family and jobs—sometimes two or three jobs.

“I feel very fortunate,” Silva says. “Our tutors are incredible. They make the added effort for students even though they are also struggling. And our students are dedicated. They want to be productive citizens.”

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