August 31, 2010

Congratulations! You’re now a Development Specialist! Now go develop… what, exactly?

I’m the new kid here at the Literacy Coalition, about six weeks into my position as a development specialist.  While sharing the good news about the new job with my friends, one of them told me that she would hate to do development because fundraising and asking for money sound like horribly difficult things to do.  While I’m not sure if I agree with her, I can certainly see her point.  Fundraising can be kind of scary.   In the past few weeks, however, I’ve realized that development does always not mean frantically writing as many grants as humanly possible or soliciting everyone in sight for money.

In fact, the most important thing we’re trying to develop is the community.  Dedicated individuals and non-profit organizations that address different facets of illiteracy can do only so much on their own.  Illiteracy is a convoluted community problem that has to be addressed at every juncture.  The community as a whole, every sector, is what has to put in some effort if we truly want to eradicate illiteracy.  Employers, neighbors, legislators, and doctors: these are just a few of the people who have to help turn illiteracy around.   Human capital is the most valuable resource we can obtain, not foundation grants (although those aren’t so bad either).

So, we’re starting a social media campaign (you can thank the campaign for the blog you’re currently reading), sending newsletters, writing press releases, publishing reports, meeting with elected officials…the list is lengthy.  We are hosting a series of get-to-know-us events called the ABCs of the Literacy Coalition.  The point of these events is not to wrangle dollars out of people.   The point is to raise community awareness.  It’s all to develop our most valuable resource – you.  Interested?   RSVP to come to an event (check out for more details).

It’s almost too bad development isn’t just about writing a ton of grant requests.  That would probably be a lot simpler!

August 25, 2010

Time Flies When You're Getting Sh...tuff Done!

Today is my final day as the AmeriCorps VISTA Health Literacy Specialist at LCCT, and wow, it's amazing how this year has flown by! To commemorate my Year of Service with the Literacy Coalition, I've decided to throw it back, circa 4th grade Father's Day card era, and write a limerick for everyone...

My Year of Service with the Coalition has been real,
That's an old term but it's truly how I feel.
It started with research, in that overheated old church,
From the workshops, Doritos I did steal.

Health Literacy! Health literacy! How you've consumed my mind.
Formatting the Resource Directory? Words for that are not kind.
But no duties did I hate,
and the majority were great.
Thank you Food Stamps for allowing me to dine.

I developed professional skills and knowledge alike,
became a true health literacy specialist, isn't that tight?
New clothes and shiny shoes,
allowed me to schmooze,
so that next year I'll have a salary and tax hike.

Facilitating workshops is in the running for being the best,
next to outreach and traveling throughout Texas' wild west.
Some said I was too young,
but the issue of health literacy was unsung,
so I ignored the claims and worked to teach the rest.

Thank you Texas, for this great year of learning.
I'll be gone for a while, but for y'all I'll be yearning.
Headed out to explore, this great country we adore.
Don't worry - in two months I'll be returning.

August 20, 2010

Illiteracy Isn’t Sexy

As the development gal here, I’ve come to the realization that illiteracy isn’t sexy.  What I mean by that is that people don’t get too attached or moved when they hear about the issue of illiteracy.  While I could spout off numbers about the hundreds of thousands of people [in the Austin area alone] that need literacy services, the average person probably wouldn’t feel deeply moved.  For a development person, this is tough!  How do you get people excited about your cause?

Here’s the route I’m taking – I’m making the stories personal.  When I talk about the Literacy Coalition, I make sure to mention the lives that we positively affect, not just the programs we offer.  Doesn’t everyone know someone who struggled in school?  Wouldn’t you be horrified to hear a story about a little girl almost overdosing on a prescription, simply because her parent couldn’t comprehend the directions on the prescription label?  There are moving stories for every issue.  People out there are passionate about many things!  For example, the reason an organization like Susan G. Komen For The Cure is so popular is because probably everyone involved knew or knows someone with breast cancer or had breast cancer themselves.  {Lightbulb!}  Make your issue personal!  We weren’t all made to have a deep passion about the same issues – different people care about different things; and it’s my job as a development staff person to find those who do care and appeal to their innate need to help others.  Even though it's tough, I'm up for the challenge!

Now I want your opinions! Have any of you out there tried to raise money for a cause that wasn’t a trendy, attractive cause? How did you raise the money? What tactics did you use to draw in folks that are passionate about your cause?

August 10, 2010

Literacy Across the Lifespan

No Former Child Left Behind

Adult education doesn’t get attention or funding the way children’s literacy programs do. Why? Kids are full of potential, quick learners, and photogenic. No sane politician hits the campaign trail to declare “Children are not our future!” Nobody blames kids for their inability to read. It’s wise to recognize the importance of children’s literacy and devote resources to raising a new generation of readers, but no comparable investment is made in the parents of these children. When parents can’t read to their kids at home, the kids have a harder time reading in school. Adult basic literacy programs are left to languish, despite the fact that the biggest influence on a child’s literacy is the literacy level of the parent.

Untapped Potential

Children are the future, but they’re not today’s workforce. Adult Basic Literacy, English as a Second Language, and other adult education classes serve an urgent purpose. Right now, one in five people (over age 16) in Travis county can not read or write well enough to fill out a job application. Imagine everybody in Austin getting together, from the East, West, North, and South—like if everyone here could actually afford to go to ACL Fest. It’d be a great party. Now visualize Austin’s usual suspects: a UT student, a tech yuppie, a SoCo hippie, you, your neighbor, and imagine counting off each person: “1, 2, 3, 4, too low-literate to be employed.” Do this at ACL in September and people will probably tell you how depressing you are. Tell them that’s how depressing illiteracy is.

If you can read this, you have a literacy problem...

The general attitude toward adult education is indifference. Grown-ups can fend for themselves. They got by this long. It’s true most adults can fend for themselves, and adult education students tend to be creative and adaptable. They’ve survived with low literacy despite how most of the world’s demands come in written form: Rent Due by the First of the Month, Slow Down Construction Ahead, Take One Every Three Hours While Symptoms Persist. Illiteracy is a deeply personal problem. But when too many of our neighbors can’t pay their bills, don’t know there are hazardous conditions on the road, or wind up in the ER because of low health literacy, it eventually affects the entire community. The illiteracy problem spills over from personal to public.

Literacy Across the Lifespan

To truly develop our community’s potential, we need literacy across the lifespan. Literacy programs are underfunded and overwhelmed, especially adult education programs. That’s why every donation of money, supplies, or time has a huge impact. The same way illiteracy affects the quality of life of everyone in our community, your time or treasure donated to a literacy program makes this a better place to live for all of us. And if you’re an advocate for literacy, remember education isn’t just for kids.

If you want to volunteer with kids, check out awesome programs like Bookspring, Heart House, or the Austin Batcave. If you think kids are annoying or would just rather help an adult education program, check out Lifeworks, Community Action, or Austin Learning Academy. For more ideas, call 512-320-4505.