One woman was able to pass a driving test, get a job and then regain custody of her daughter. Another person went on to enroll at Ivy Tech Community College, and countless others have benefited from the work of the Literacy Coalition.
The Howard County nonprofit, which started in 1988, now serves about 300 people a year. The Literacy Coalition offers tutoring for people 16 and older who are not in school and are preparing to take the High School Equivalency Assessment, teaches people to read and helps adults trying to learn English.
The work is life-changing, for volunteers as well as students, said executive director Bob Stephenson.
“When you see the success of these people and how it changes them, it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever been associated with,” he said. “I’d say the majority of our GED recipients go on to some kind of additional training, which they never had the confidence for before or it wasn’t an option. When you see them come to that realization [that they can pass the test], it’s powerful.”
About 10 percent of Indiana’s adult population does not have high school credentials, and 1 percent does not speak English well or at all, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Stephenson estimates Howard County’s illiteracy rate matched the national average, which is 14 to 15 percent.
“These are people who have sat in classrooms, and that method didn’t work for them, so we try to make it individualized and flexible,” Stephenson said. “The beauty of the program is, if you come in with a certain need, we’ll figure out a way to get you there.”
Five years ago, Penny Irwin arrived at the Literacy Coalition wanting to help meet some of those needs. She didn’t expect to benefit as well.