History of the Johnson County Adult Literacy Program (JCALP)

In the summer of 1986, Sarah Leahy, Warrensburg Branch Librarian, went to a library conference in Springfield, Missouri. At that conference, she heard about the extent of illiteracy in the United States and especially Missouri, as well as the financial and human costs associated with it. Sarah came back to Warrensburg determined to do something to help. She looked for a way to volunteer to teach people to read and found no venue to do that in this community. She shared the information she learned with her colleagues at the Trails Regional Library. Susan Bonett, Trails Regional Library Director, and the Trails staff took up the challenge to do something. 

 

Mary Griffith and Lucille Mock, Trails Administrative staff, were instrumental in getting the Community Betterment organization interested in the issue and that group soon called a meeting of leaders of the community (including businessmen, bankers, service clubs, Family Services, and educators). The problems of illiteracy and its effects on the community were presented. Out of that meeting came a resolution to explore possibilities to fight illiteracy. A steering committee was formed in October 1986.  Sarah Leahy was the first president of the Board of Directors (1987-89). She was succeeded by Norma Harpster.

Research was done to find teaching materials.  In 1986 there were 2 major literacy programs in the US: Laubach Way to Reading* and Literacy Volunteers of America.  The Laubach method was chosen because the board considered it a system a person who was not a professional teacher could understand and use successfully.  JCALP was incorporated in April 1987 and Missouri Tax Exempt Status was granted in November 1987.  Paperwork for these accomplishments was done by community volunteers.  All funds for needed application fees and program materials were donations from the Board, the business community, and individuals.

I, Joyce Michael, volunteered to help in 1986 but said I did not want to teach. I was asked to be the first Coordinator for JCALP. This was a part-time, unpaid position. I believe we had the first training session in the spring of 1987. Certified Laubach trainers came to Warrensburg and provided a 12-hour workshop for the first group of volunteer tutors (about 20). The trainers were only paid a small stipend for their travel; they were volunteers. The tutor volunteers were asked to pay for their own Laubach Way to Reading Teacher manuals (about $20 at that time). JCALP bought a supply of student books. The library did not have an office space for JCALP, but offered a desk drawer and a book rack in the back hallway for my use. The library staff took calls of inquiry about JCALP and passed phone numbers to me at home. 

Connie Homoly, a teacher at Warrensburg High School, was in that first training class and took the first student to ask for help.  He was a total non-reader who worked cleaning offices at night.  He offered to pay for his books with a $100 bill-he did not have a checking account because he could not read.  We sent him to the bank to get change!  He met Connie faithfully and nearly completed all four Laubach Way to Reading books in about a year.  His goal was to start his own business back in his hometown.(I think it was in Mississippi).  He went home to do that when his mother was ill.

*The Laubach Literacy International organization was established in the 1950s and was based on the technique of teaching developed by Dr. Frank Laubach, a Congregational missionary who went to the Philippines in the 1920s to work with the Moros tribes.  Learning they had no written language, he devised a system of pictures and letters to develop that written language.  It was very successful, but when the banks failed and the Depression set in, the funding of the misson dried up.  Dr. Laubach had to bring his people home.  When the tribal leader was told, he called his people together, drew his knife, and said, "I can read now, and others can also.  Each one will teach one -or die!"  Dr. Laubach was so impressed that he used that motto "Each One, Teach One" as a basis for his teaching system which came to be used around the world.

We averaged two tutor training classes a year. Tutors were asked to buy their Laubach books.  They were always interviewed in advance by myself and two Board members to be sure they understood the program.  We wanted someone who would not leave their student after a couple of meetings.  It also allowed us to evaluate them and see what they expected.  

For several years we depended on outside trainers, but eventually Connie Homoly and I both completed the requirements to be Trainers certified by the Laubach Literacy Action Program.  Tutor Training sessions were held at churches in Warrensburg or Holden when library facilities were not available.  Tutoring places were found at churches or private spaces provided by businesses in the county.  I usually met with interested learners at the Warrensburg library and occasionally in Holden or Knob Noster.  Tutors met with learners at various locations-churches, the library, spare rooms at businesses, any place that was both public and private for the safety, convenience, privacy of both tutor and learner.  Most tutors/learners meet twice a week for an hour or more. Some meet less often. 

 

Trails Regional Library offices had been located on the second floor of the building 123-125 N Holden sine the mid 1970's, the Warrensburg Branch being on the main floor.  

In 1989 ? they received a grant to remodel the 2nd floor over 123 for use by their Children’s Department and JCALP.  We had a good- sized meeting room and 2 tutoring rooms.  It was great!

We were also accepted as a United Way Agency and that helped with funding.  Lucille Mock’s husband passed away in l989 and the family became a regular contributor to JCALP as a memorial to him.  We received financial support from many community groups as a result of presentations about the program.  JCALP never sought government support.  The library always provided space, telephone access, and supportive personnel.

I left as coordinator in 1992 but continued as a trainer.  In the next 5 years a Community Spelling Bee was started as a fundraiser.  Individuals and/or businesses paid to sponsor a 3-person team to compete in a community spelling bee.  This was very successful for probably 10 years.  I returned as coordinator in 1995 or 1996 and stayed until 2001 or2002 and then gave it up again

 

Other projects you really need to know about were high school tutoring and the Sheltered Workshop. Connie Homoly was a Special Ed teacher at Warrensburg High School and a tutor and trainer for JCALP.  She obtained permission from Dr. Jenks and the Warrensburg School District to organize and oversee one-on-one tutoring of some of her special education students at the school during class time by JCALP trained tutor volunteers.  The program was a definite success but was discontinued after several  years because the school board feared liability issues from using volunteers.  There had been no problems of any kind prior to that decision.  Unfortunate.

 

The second unique project of JCALP involved the local sheltered workshop.  We had several clients of the workshop as learners and each worked with a different volunteer tutor.  There were problems with transportation and students not keeping appointments.  After several years, we succeeded in getting a tutor allowed to meet her student on workshop property.  Eventually we had another tutor, Lois Meloy, who actually became an employee of the workshop and her job was to tutor individuals who needed reading instruction.   The workshop had difficulty coming up with the money to pay her immediately, so JCALP actually paid part of her salary for a month until the Board of Services could take it over.  Lois was a valued employee for many years.  Then there was a change of management at the workshop and it was decided to give her job to a “professional”.  The reading instruction ended. That was a real loss to the people she served and to JCALP.  

 

In 2002 Dyna Dorssom became coordinator.  She designed and started a math class for learners who wanted that instruction.  When the library was moving from 125 N. Holden to its current location, she actually taught that class for several months at the old schoolhouse on the grounds of Warrensburg’s original courthouse because there was no space available at Trails Library at that time.  An effort was made to expand the math to the area of financial literacy, but the Board eventually discontinued it because they felt they could not provide a good, sustainable program.  

Another project (started by Dyna, I believe) was English Café, which offered guided conversation groups for English as a Second Language (ESL) learners.  Some of the JCALP tutors volunteered to meet at the library in the evening with ESL learners who wanted to just talk and improve their English in conversation with native-born Americans. A topic of conversation would be chosen for the evening and the tutors guided the conversation using suggested questions and comments.  It was a huge success and was also used at Whiteman AFB.  We need to think about starting conversation groups again, both here and at the base, because there is a real need for these people to use the language and get used to hearing our different accents and expressions.  

 

Money was always tight but adequate.  Tutors bought their set of Laubach 4 manuals for many years.  Now they are provided to the tutors as needed.  Students are asked to pay for their books one at a time, if possible.  Some did.  Many did not. No one was pressured or “reminded”.  The feeling by the original Board was that if a person had a few dollars invested in a book, he would be more likely to complete that book when it became difficult rather than give up his efforts to learn.  It was a way of allowing the student to feel pride in “paying his way” and not feel it was charity.  The coordinator wrote the price of the student book inside the cover, pointed it out and said, “You can pay when you are able.”  Some did.  One young man came back many months after leaving the program and paid $5 for a book.                                                                                  

                                                                                      


 

A highlight of the early years was when Robert Laubach, son of the founder of the Laubach Literacy Action organization and its president, came to Warrensburg and stopped to visit our offices.  Also, First Lady Barbara Bush was guest speaker at a Central Missouri State University event and praised our program and its efforts in the community.  One of our learners, a man from Holden, was invited to meet her personally, but he was not able to come that evening because of a family commitment.  That was a disappointment but she handled it gracefully saying, “Family comes first.”

 

Over the years we have found the textbooks we use are excellent.  Tutors, be they experienced teachers or newcomers to that role, have been able to use them effectively.  The Laubach Way to Reading system is the skeleton on which the JCALP program is developed.  It can take a total non-reader to about the 5th grade reading level.  After that, they graduate to the Challenger Series which has 8 books and goes to 8th grade level.  The person then should be able to handle the High School Equivalency classes.  The Laubach system is designed to work with learning disabilities and different learning styles.  

We also use Laubach Way to English, a parallel system, for teaching English to speakers of other languages.  

 

We have purchased the basic set of the Susan Barton Program for dyslexic learners.  Dyna Dorssom, former coordinator and current trainer and tutor, has taken the training to use this material.  She guides tutors who want to use that material if needed.   We maintain a wide assortment of supplementary materials for students at all levels.