August 31, 2011

It made a difference to that one...

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"

The young man paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean."

"I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, "It made a difference for that one."

Sometimes in my work I feel as though the issue at hand is too big for one person, or one organization, to make any difference. That we can't do enough to affect literacy rates because we don't have the support we need from the system. Or in regards to health literacy, that poor communication and lack of empathy for the low health literate patient is commonplace, and that no matter what we do, the change will be minimal at best.

This story, written by anthropologist, Loren Eiseley, reminds me that everything we do as individuals really does make a difference, albeit minor. But when all of our individual efforts are combined, these minor differences become much greater, lasting changes.

It's worth it, y'all! Keep doin what you're doin!

August 18, 2011

Discussion Series: Social Innovations for Adult Literacy

Did you know that 1/3 of American adults own a smart phone and that African Americans and Latinos are more likely to use their phones for non-voice applications (games, videos, etc.) than whites? In today's rapidly changing world, we must expand our definition of literacy to include the influx of new media available at our fingertips. With new technologies emerging on what seem like a daily basis, how can programs change the way they're addressing communities' literacy needs to capture the skills necessary to stay competitive across the lifespan?

The National Coalition for Literacy is currently hosting a discussion series that addresses these issues of digital literacy head-on, starting with the most basic question: What is digital literacy and how can we best define it? There's a whole slew of guest bloggers and lively discussions taking place. Check it out!

Social Innovations in Adult Education

August 10, 2011

We’re not crazy, we’re just a non-profit.

I won’t lie, it’s not uncommon for us to get told that we should scale down our plans, or that we may be getting in over our heads. LCCT has been dealing with that feedback for years, and dealing with it very successfully.

Today, we met with another small organization doing very big things for the Austin community. The meeting reminded me of how small organizations can have such a large impact, and it never ceases to amaze me how these groups are making the most of their resources. The literacy programs in our network also do this every day, and it’s their support and dedication that in turn makes our influence on the community possible.

It’s difficult for some organizations and companies to understand the dynamics of the small nonprofit world. It’s understandable that we find ourselves up against doubts about our capacity, and our ability to reach a large audience from those outside of the non-profit world. In a non-profit, you have to be creative and open enough to transform limited resources into valuable services. Unfortunately, good intentions don’t always make successful organizations, and several end up closing their doors soon after they’re opened.

I’m proud to be part of a successful, 9-person organization that does the work of a mid-sized company. From my time at the Literacy Coalition, I’ve learned that the mutual respect and dedication built among a small group of hard working individuals can make for a surprisingly efficient non-profit machine. At LCCT, we’re open to changes that will allow us to make a greater impact on the community. We’re supportive of each other. We base our decisions on the people we serve. We believe in a solid work-life balance. We’ve built the trust of local non-profits and for-profits alike, and as a result have a network that helps us reach a variety of audiences. These are the things that have allowed LCCT to grow its services exponentially over the last three years, and we have no reason to slow down.

Less can most definitely be more. If you don’t believe me, take another look our previous blog posts, our Facebook page, and our website. Now that you know a little more about our inner workings, you’ll see all of those projects we’re working on in a whole new light.

Now I want to hear from other organizations in our shoes. What obstacles have you overcome as a small organization playing with the big shots? What are you proud of? What advice do you have for other small organizations?