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.  TO BE CONTINUED...