Since 1985, the Literacy Council of Lancaster-Lebanon has been serving adult learners, providing classes and career counseling.
Now, the nonprofit is planning to produce a set of new videos aimed at helping learners whose native language isn’t English to thrive and to move into the digital age.
The idea is to create video tutorials to help with orientation and explain how to use the technology used in the Literacy Council’s online classes. They will help with language barriers, and present learners with information in a language they will understand.
“You want the information to be accessible,” said Taylor Thomas, a student advisor.
The project is receiving a $5,000 Level Up & Launch grant from United Way of Lancaster County.
“I was excited about the Level Up & Launch grant opportunity,” said Jenny Bair, the Literacy Council’s program director.
Through the videos, she said, “adults who want to connect to our program will find a place that’s welcoming, and a place of belonging … What better way to welcome (people)?”
The project has been in the works for a while. One of Literacy Council’s strategic priorities, Executive Director Cheryl Hiester said, is “digital excellence.”
The Literacy Council made huge strides with videoconferencing and other technology during the pandemic, when many agencies and organizations had to adapt quickly to remote work.
Younger staff are “digital natives,” she said. This will help them as they provide technology tools for students for onboarding and connectivity to classes.
Bair started out as a volunteer at the Literacy Council 23 years ago. She said there are 19 staff members teaching a diverse group of learners, including those looking for high school equivalency (Hi-SET) diplomas, English as a Second Language classes or career guidance.
There are six levels of English in the ESL program.
Megan Goerner is a student advisor with the Literacy Council. She has a master’s degree in school counseling and worked for the School District of Reading prior to signing on with the nonprofit.
Students come from every part of the world and every walk of life, she said.
“We’re kind of that welcoming face to them,” she said. “They want somebody to connect with.”
“We have students who are doing such amazing things,” she said. “We have cohorts of people who are learning to be doctors and nurses. We have people who are learning to be administrative assistants. …
“One of the greatest things that happens, is oftentimes, they’ll come back, and they’ll give back to the community … They’ll become teachers and tutors, and we really get to see that relationship grow, even more than you can imagine. And the impact to their children is just exponential.”
There is no need to recruit students to the program, Bair said: “They come, they stay.”
Thomas, the student advisor, taught in Spain for four years before coming back last year to work with local students.
“You see people from all around the world coming to one place, and this being their unity point,” she said. “People (with) all different levels of English … This is their hub. They are so eager to learn.”
Those working in the program as instructors or in other roles, learn a lot, too, about who their neighbors are, she said.
“We get a lot of stories – We’re giving (people) the ability to tell their own stories, in their words.”