Ten years ago, Dollar General Literacy Foundation gave ProLiteracy the funding to explore how we could reach people with low literacy who weren’t going to seek out help from their local literacy program because they were already dealing with more pressing issues.
Together, we created the Expanding Access initiative. Dollar General gave us the seed money for the project with the intention that we would look for opportunities to take what we’ve learned and build on it to serve the most people possible.
Over the past decade, we’ve explored how to connect with clients at individual social service agencies, how to build partnerships within communities, and how to incorporate instruction throughout an entire network of domestic violence shelters.
Expanding Access has given us a better understanding of how to develop resources for our field and for the community at large to address the challenge of reaching those who need literacy services.
So, now what? As Expanding Access draws to a close, it’s time to bring the project full circle and build on what we’ve learned.
Our next moves:
- Develop more direct-to-student courses: Social service agencies need resources that they can implement without trained tutors or teachers. With direct-to-student courses, agencies can meet the educational needs of their clients without a significant investment of time, money, and other resources. Clients can improve their literacy and language skills at their own pace with no pressure. This is important because clients are already overwhelmed by whatever issue that they’re at the agency for in the first place.
- Making connections to low literacy: We found that many agencies only have a vague notion of their clients’ low literacy issues and how prevalent they are. This impacts the clients’ ability to take advantage of the services offered. If we connect literacy statistics to the issues, we can build understanding among agency staff. With increased awareness, social service agencies can direct clients to the courses we provide and to literacy providers in their area. They can also better serve clients by making resources more accessible.
- Plain language training: We looked at many agencies’ websites and saw that much of the client-facing information was written at a 10th to 13th grade level. This is way out of the realm of what someone in need of their services can read and understand. Information often includes important descriptions of support services, security protocols, privacy rights, and responsibilities. Training agencies on how to promote their services and to create more accessible resources for clients already in their program would bring more people into the agency and connect more individuals with literacy resources.
To begin acting on our plans, ProLiteracy has been part of framing the Barbara Bush Foundation National Action Plan for Adult Literacy. We are participating in the EBAES Taskforce 1, promoting collaborations between adult education and other social service agencies. And with funding from Pitney Bowes, we are helping adult education students embark on desired career paths.
New partnerships and funding could even allow us to develop a centralized hub where social service agencies could find all our resources in one place. Who knows? Maybe that’s just the tip of the iceberg?
What started as a specific project funded by Dollar General is now permeating how we at ProLiteracy think about everything we develop.
Thank you to Dollar General for giving us the means to do this important Expanding Access work over the past 10 years!