Local Program Helps Shape Adult Literacy Field
ProLiteracy member organizations vary greatly in size and scope of service. One of ProLiteracy’s largest and most comprehensive programs is Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council (GPLC), which serves 9,000 adults and children a year and provides services to other literacy groups as well.
After the Pittsburgh public school system decided six years ago to close its adult basic education programs, state and local officials asked GPLC to take over most of the programs, which spurred substantial growth in the organization. Today its 40 staff members partner with 600 volunteers and 50 AmeriCorps members to serve students. GPLC also brings together other Pittsburgh-area literacy providers to coordinate services and resources.
“The state government has designated us as a center of training for other literacy programs,” says Don Block, GPLC executive director. “During the recent fiscal crisis, many programs faced severe challenges. Some had to cut back services or close for a few months and then re-open. We at GPLCtry to assist them through this. We’re the resource in Pittsburgh that everyone looks to when times are tough.”
In addition, GPLC is a resource for organizations outside of Pittsburgh. It serves as the national administrator of Literacy*AmeriCorps, which operates in Seattle; Los Angeles; Dayton; Washington, D.C.; New Orleans; and Phoenix, as well as Pittsburgh. Through a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service, the AmeriCorps participants teach adult and family literacy, English as a second language (ESL), and, in some cases, prepare students for jobs.
Through these partnerships, GPLC is able to share best practices with others in the field. “Sharing keeps all programs on the cutting edge of what’s happening so they can bring to their students the latest methods out there,” explains Block.
As is true around the country, demand for adult literacy services in Pittsburgh is up, but some funding sources have reduced their support. GPLC has 200 people on the waiting list and has introduced some creative ways to serve those people while they wait for a tutor or class.
GPLC has also done some creative outreach to the growing refugee population in the city. “Refugees are permitted to look for work immediately; they don’t need to wait for a green card,” says Block. “We started Vocational ESL, which provides business or workplace English classes 20 hours a week.” GPLCalso established a learning center in an emerging Somali community to help new immigrants build skills and get jobs.
“They put us out of business by using our service and then getting jobs,” says Block. “We closed that center after three years because they no longer needed us, and we call that a success.”
GPLC’s latest project is to expand a facility in downtown Pittsburgh, effectively adding 5,000 square feet of teaching and office space. This effort will involve a capital drive of $400,000, which isabove and beyond their operating budget. Block sees this additional space as an important way to ensure that community members get the services they need. He credits GPLC’s board of directors for their commitment to keeping the organization strong.
“When students request help, we’ll find a way to teach them,” he says. “We always fill the need. We are not afraid of growth.”
Visit GPLC’s website for more information.