How Two Women Changed Adult Literacy in Maine Forever

How Two Women Changed Adult Literacy in Maine Forever

Agnes Beckwith, 72, and Sister Mary Benigna, 63, believed in helping people and wanted to bring English language education to adults in Bangor, Maine, in a brand-new way.

Some of the national Church Women United (CWU) quadrennial priorities include human rights and the right to a quality education, hunger and poverty, health and wellness, and diversity and inclusiveness. In an effort to support increasing access to innovative learning environments for youth and adults, CWU supported adult literacy and recruited both Agnes and Sister Mary to work together to bring Ruth Colvin’s Literacy Volunteers of America to the state of Maine.

Founded in 1962 by Ruth J. Colvin in Syracuse, New York, Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA) was established to provide training and program support for volunteers who tutor adults and teenagers, one to one, to write and speak conversational English. Before its merge with Laubach Literacy International to establish ProLiteracy in 2012, one of the primary focuses of LVA was “each one teach one,” characterized by LVA’s philosophy of teaching new readers to teach others.

With LVA’s blossoming success at the time, Agnes and Sister Mary were encouraged to travel to Syracuse to be trained and gain field experience.

The summer following their initial visit to LVA, Agnes and Sister Mary took what they learned during their training and from the “each one teach one” philosophy and traveled an estimated total of 2,500 miles to speak at various church groups across the state of Maine. The pair educated communities about low literacy among adults and informed them how important it is to volunteer at adult literacy programs. This eventually lead to the start of Literacy Volunteers of Bangor.

Literacy Volunteers of Bangor began as a grassroots organization run by a handful of women and one man who met in their homes, held bake sales, and eventually ran out of a very small office in the basement of the Bangor Public Library.

Today, the organization celebrates its 50th anniversary providing free English language tutoring to adults across Bangor, Maine. From the basement office of the local library as a grassroots organization, Literacy Volunteers of Bangor Maine has evolved into a highly successful program serving hundreds of students based on the following core values:

  • Literacy is a civil right, the foundation of democracy.
  • There is no substitute for the caring heart of a volunteer.
  • Everyone has the right to access lifelong learning opportunities.
  • Barriers are challenges to be eliminated.
  • We believe in readiness instead of compliance.
  • There is no such thing as an average learner, and there is no such thing as the best way to learn.
  • We seek to change the direction of their lives without judgment, not to change their lives.
  • We are providing opportunities for lifelong learning, not remedial education.
  • Adults expect and deserve individualized, personalized education.
  • Mistakes are opportunities to learn.
  • The adult learning process is a teacher/learner partnership and relationship.
  • The process begins by starting where the adult learner is.

Agnes and Sister Mary were driven by their love for education and passion to help others to create a legacy and establish a new hope for adult education in Bangor, Maine.

Thank you, Agnes and Sister Mary, for supporting adult literacy.



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