October 25, 2010

I read it and all, but I don’t know what I read

October is Health Literacy Month—and even though it is nearly over, there’s still time to think about what health literacy is and why it’s important, and maybe even take some action! A quick definition: health literacy is the ability to read, understand, and act on health information. Sounds simple, right? Health literacy includes not only fundamental literacy (reading, writing, speaking and numeracy) but also scientific civic and cultural literacy. (Zarcadoolas, Pleasant, and Greer).

On one end of the spectrum, think for a minute about the challenge for someone who has limited math and reading skills having to figure out how to give the right dose of over- the-counter pain medication to her child. On the other end of the spectrum, think about someone having to make decisions about cancer treatments—and how those other literacies—scientific, civic, and cultural— come into play.

Another way to think about health literacy is to think of the difference between senders and receivers of health information. The senders are experts of various kinds—medical experts like doctors, nurses and public health professionals, or employees of pharmaceutical companies, men and women with scientific knowledge, who tend to use that knowledge frequently. Receivers, the patients, are very often infrequent, non-scientific users of medical information, though they may have many other kinds of expertise. It’s pretty clear that simply handing over the information from sender to receiver isn’t very effective. The work of health literacy is to find ways to create a framework for communication between them.

How does health literacy affect us? It’s nearly Halloween, so some scary stories are in order. Think of an elderly person with impaired eyesight and perhaps diminished cognitive skills taking medications—maybe six or seven, with multiple dosing instructions, including several different times of day and warnings for taking with or without food. Or think of the young woman who said the following:

I got pregnant with my second child trying to take the [birth control] pill. I don’t think I took them right at all. A month after I started taking them I found out I was pregnant. I had to read the instructions over and over and I still took them wrong.

Or this woman, about taking her prescription correctly: When I got this pamphlet it was a lot of words-- it is a lot. I read read here and there but I didn’t understand it. Because it uses a medical language. Much of the time, I don’t understand it. And when I read it, I read it and all, but I don’t know what I read. (translated from Spanish)

The Literacy Coalition of Central Texas stepped up to address health literacy directly through its Health Literacy Initiative. Working with both “senders” and “receivers,” LCCT has developed trainings for literacy groups offering literacy programs resources and workshops to learn how to include health literacy in their curricula. Additionally, it recently partnered up with Sage Words to distribute informational flyers for health literacy month across its network of literacy providers. Along with People’s Community Clinic it has launched a health literacy action group to collaboratively address low health literacy in Central Texas. The Literacy Coalition also offers trainings for healthcare providers on health literacy and effective patient-provider communication. To learn more about the how you can get involved with health literacy or to register for an upcoming workshop, please contact Nichole Lopez-Riley at nlopez@willread.org.

By guest contributor Kath Anderson from Sage Words

October 18, 2010

events, events, events

As you all may know, the Literacy Coalition hosts an awesomely fun early springtime event called Austin's Great Grown-Up Spelling Bee for Literacy.  If you don't know anything about this event, really - you are missing out!  A uniquely Austin event, the Bee supports the important cause of literacy while also providing an uproariously fun time to all of those involved.  Businesses enter teams of 3 spelling adults who compete against other corporate teams on the main stage at Austin Music Hall, all while wearing funny and amazingly creative costumes.  You'd be surprised how some of these teams manage to spell ridiculously difficult words!  If you haven't heard of it, you should definitely check it out on our website.

I've gone off on a tangent, so back to my original reason for this post: events.  When I started this gig, we only had our hallmark big spelling bee, three satellite spelling bees, and our key advocacy event Literacy Day at the Capitol held every other year during legislative sessions.  All of our events happened between February and April.  Since I've come on board, though, we've been adding some events.  We host a 'getting to know us' event (sometimes more than once a month), are starting up Happy Hour Spelling Bees once a month (more information about those to come!), are hosting another fall fundraising event focused on individual donors, and thinking about adding more...  And let me tell you, it's a lot of work  Don't get me wrong, I LOVE events.  Really, I love them.  However, I do think there is such a thing as being overstretched.

On that note, I've gathered some words of wisdom and tips for non-profit events. Here are just a few things you should think about before you decide to take on a new event:

1. What is my goal?  Do we want to raise a lot of money? Or do we want to just increase our visibility in the community?  Be sure and make a goal!  This will help the events coordinator and events committee stay on track.

2. What will this cost the organization?  Does your organization have policies about what makes an event "worth it"?  Some organizations don't hold an event unless it's completely underwritten by donations and sponsorships, so that the org can yield 100% profit.  Are there things that could be donated to help reduce the cost to the organization?  Ultimately, with your organization's money and staff time, this will help you evaluate whether or not your event idea is really worth it.

3. How will you promote the event?  For some events, promotion is everything.  If you don't promote your event effectively, you might have just wasted a lot of time and money on something that will not benefit the organization in the end.  Before you start heavily planning, evaluate your organization's connections for promotions.  Do you have the money to print invitations or flyers?  How will people learn about the event?  Would a logical partnership make promotions a lot easier?  (For example, does your cause align with a local sorority or fraternity's philanthropy goals?  If so, get them involved to bring in the college crowd!  This could be a useful partnership to get volunteers, too.)

Here are some helpful websites that give great tips and things to think about:

And, the internet can be your best friend... if your organization has an idea for a unique event, Google the idea and:
  1. Make sure another organization isn't already doing that 'unique' event in your area
  2. Look into what other cities are doing and learn from their mistakes and successes
  3. Learn as much as you can about other general tips for non-profit events!

October 11, 2010

Institute for Excellence in Volunteer Management

For a day and a half, the Literacy Coalition offered an institute to assist our partner organizations with the task of learning more about how to effectively manage volunteers. We were able to develop and host this amazing training thanks to the Renewing Our Communities grant from the OneStar Foundation.  A partnership with Dr. Sarah Jane Rehnborg of the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service ensured that we had the best of the best educating our partner agencies. We would also like to thank St. David's Episcopal Church in Austin for providing us with such wonderful accommodations and being so attentive to the needs of our guests attending the event.

After learning a wealth of knowledge about effectively managing volunteers, all institute participants are now receiving free consulting from graduate students at the University of Texas who assisted with the institute and helped our partner organizations identify things that they wanted to work on to strengthen their volunteer programs.  Students are focusing on five key areas: Volunteer & Staff Relations, Supervision & Support, Policies & Organizational Strategies, Roles for Volunteers, and Evaluation. 

Check out some pictures from our two day event below:

everyone at the institute! what a great crowd!

the marvelous Dr. Sarah Jane Renhborg

group brainstorming

great shared learning experiences!

Stay tuned for updates about the student and organization progress!