Friday, June 11, 2010

Adult Literacy Volunteer Opportunities: Making a Difference in My Community

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At mid-life I'm looking for some way to make more of a difference in our community. Supporting adult literacy appeals to me because of the tremendous impact reading has had on my life. I figure the kids have school districts looking after them (I could be wrong on this; educate me). If there are adult native and non-native English speakers who want like to learn to (or even enjoy) reading I want to help. With the able assistance of my personal "Board of Directors" I've identified the following programs to look into:

Are there any other volunteer adult literacy programs in the Twin Cities you can recommend?  Please let me know.  Thanks!

Updated To Add:

A member of my "board" sent me an excellent reply I wanted to share with you.  It speaks eloquently to the process of choosing an organization in which to volunteer.  My friend asked that I remove identifiers so as not to give the impression these comments were being made on behalf of any particular agency, employer, or client.  That's a shame because I'd be happy to give this agency credit for employing someone with this sort of brains and passion.

"As an employee of a social services non-profit, I've learned a great deal first hand about need in our community that results from generational poverty and immigrants who come to US in search of safety from war and genocide. My work has boiled down to the very basic survival needs of food, clothing, and shelter. These needs are very real and have an effect on all of us as a whole, even if we feel we are "outside" of them, and you could volunteer in these areas for the rest of your life and never run out of people and places that are short on resources.

However, I urge you to go with your passion, which is education and literacy. As a volunteer coordinator, I've seen countless people who give in order to "just do it." While their intentions are no less positive and their contributions are no less valuable, it doesn't maximize the experience. For example, I've gotten a lot of people settled into volunteer positions in the food shelf, and they feel good about being there and everyone benefits, but really what they are thinking while there is, "I feel best when I pack a food order for a family suffering the fallout of domestic abuse." The issue of family violence puts a fire in their belly more than the issue of hunger in general. Then that person goes to volunteer at a domestic violence shelter, and boom, they come alive in ways they couldn't in the food shelf, therefore contributing their best, therefore allowing others to benefit from their best. What used to be helping becomes HELPING, and what used to be helpful becomes HELPFUL.

We each have things that we care about for our own reasons, and we each have our own gifts and talents to contribute. It sounds like yours is education and literacy. Imagine if everyone was focused on the hunger problem and there were no resources to help people read and therefore learn, write, work, and grow. And that doesn't even touch how literacy has a profound effect on future generations. So don't doubt yourself. Follow your heart and your gut.

The Volunteer Match web site ( will give you a boatload of options and inspiration. It's a clearinghouse of sorts for countless agencies, is powered in large part by United Way, and most volunteer-based organizations (United Way connected or not) use it heartily. You can team up with a specific position at a specific location, see what organizations go by that spark your interest and then look them up independently, or even discover an organization that doesn't have a literacy component but is a natural fit for you to bring one in. Another good resource for your situation may be the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits ( You may also be interested in checking into the school systems, whether the K-12 category or community colleges and universities. You could be a tutor for students who don't have the knowledge or gumption to seek out help and resources in the greater community. Between human pride and inexperience, people are often willing to go down the hall for help because it's "right there," but separate outside sources of help go underutilized because people are either embarrassed about needing the help or they simply don't realize it's out there.

I'm so happy that you're getting involved and doing what you can to improve the world. You're an inspiration. Go dig around, see what moves you, and enjoy the adventure! It can't all be work - have fun, too!"

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