At 17, Amber dropped out of high school, frustrated with a curriculum she struggled to understand. Mild learning disabilities left her unable to fully grasp the material, and although she tried to ask for help, Amber’s teachers didn’t have the time or the resources to help her succeed. She wandered through the next years with no real goals or a sense of purpose.
Eventually, Amber got married and became pregnant. Suddenly responsible for someone else, she looked for direction. Without a high school diploma, however, she found herself with limited options until a case worker from Healthy Families Indiana introduced Amber to The Literacy Alliance.
Formally incorporated in 1988, The Literacy Alliance offers literacy instruction to adults through learning centers, literacy programs, and tutoring services, all at no charge to its students. The organization’s ultimate goal is to help as many adults as possible achieve high school equivalency (HSE). It’s a daunting task; approximately 30,000 adults in Allen County—approximately one in nine people—do not possess a high school diploma.
Because students who work with The Literacy Alliance come from all walks of life and typically juggle jobs and families, the program’s biggest challenge is developing an effective learning strategy for each person’s situation. That approach, however, is also the program’s biggest strength: it offers each student an individualized path for success.
Executive Director Mike Landram explains, “The program has to be flexible. We have great instructional staff and volunteer tutors. They care about students individually and instill confidence.”
In Amber’s case, her daughter’s health issues frequently took her away from scheduled class times. She remembers, “It was challenging to be a new mom and juggle classes. We had to go to Indianapolis to Riley Hospital for Children a lot, too. I didn’t want to fall behind. I knew if I missed too many classes, I would be dropped.”
To further complicate her schedule, Amber embarked on a job training program that would offer her long-term work opportunities. The training times conflicted with her HSE classes, which she needed to qualify for the job certification. One element depended on the other, but everything threatened to fall apart because she couldn’t attend both classes at the same time.
Amber asked The Literacy Alliance for help, and she got it. “With online instruction and individual tutoring to supplement her classes,” says Landram, “we created a customized workaround for Amber. When students have a strong commitment and are goal-oriented, our staff can find alternatives. They have to think outside the box.”
Creative thinking at The Literacy Alliance goes far beyond finding alternative class opportunities. It also means finding ways to teach students that help them grasp and retain the material, especially with learners for whom traditional methods have proven to be less successful. Based on her high school experience, Amber was naturally wary of the program at first. She quickly learned that The Literacy Alliance was different.
“I knew by the second class that this was going to help,” Amber recalls. “Not only did they put a plan together for me, but they actually cared for me as a person. They explained things in a way I could understand, or they kept trying different ways until I did.”
Landram adds,” We assess each student’s learning style, and then we leverage their strengths.”
Amber, who had an individual education plan (IEP) in high school, not only passed the HSE exam with high scores on her first try, she also did it with no special accommodations. Now she is looking forward to completing her Patient Access Registration certification through Work One, finding a full-time job, and someday attending college. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without The Literacy Alliance,” says Amber.
With more than 70 volunteers and 16 paid staff members, The Literacy Alliance operates six HSE instruction sites in the Fort Wayne area, as well as pre-HSE sites at the Allen County Public Library, the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission, and its headquarters at The Summit. For adults struggling with reading, the organization also offers individualized tutoring. The Literacy Alliance has served more than 10,000 students since 1988, helping them open doors through literacy.
“You just don’t know who’s affected,” says Landram. “I wish more citizens would become aware of how we can help.”
No one agrees more than Amber. “It gets me emotional just talking about The Literacy Alliance,” she says. “It has changed my life.”
Owner(s): Mike Landram, Executive Director
Address: 1005 W. Rudisill Blvd., Suite 307 Fort Wayne, Indiana 46807
Phone: (260) 426-7323
Years in Business: 29; formally incorporated in 1988
Number of Employees: 16 paid staff, 70+ volunteers
Products & Services: The Literacy Alliance strives to end illiteracy by teaching adults through learning centers, literacy programs, and tutoring services that empower individuals to succeed at work, at home, and in the community. The organization offers high school equivalency (HSE) classes, pre-HSE instruction, and individualized tutoring for adults struggling with reading.