Literacy Services of Wisconsin to acquire Milwaukee Achiever

Adult education organizations target workforce development

Student Darlene Wise works with volunteer tutor Beth Gosnell at Literacy Services of Wisconsin.

Literacy Services of Wisconsin plans to acquire Milwaukee Achiever Literacy Services.

Student Darlene Wise works with volunteer tutor Beth Gosnell at Literacy Services of Wisconsin in 2016.

The nonprofit organizations offer community-based adult education programs. By merging, they will broaden their impact and help students improve job readiness. Combining resources also will allow LSW to increase philanthropic and corporate support.

Both boards of directors are expected to give final approval to the transaction by July 1.

Ginger Duiven, executive director of LSW, will continue to lead the combined organization in that role. Holly McCoy, interim executive director at Milwaukee Achiever, will  serve as senior director of programs.

All six of the nonprofits’ locations will remain open, under the Literacy Services of Wisconsin name. Together, the organizations will offer workforce development, General Educational Development preparation, Pre-GED education, a PI 5.09 High School Equivalency Diploma program, English language learning, Wilson Reading System instruction, and computer skills and digital learning.

“The biggest advantage is shared expertise,” Duiven said. “Milwaukee Achiever and Literacy Services have evolved in slightly different ways of expertise.”

Literacy Services of Wisconsin has been offering adult education services since 1965, when it was founded by members of First Congregational Church of Wauwatosa, Christ Presbyterian Church and North Shore Congregational Church after an international literacy leader called for an adult literacy program in Wisconsin. It aims to help adult learners achieve greater independence and change their lives through literacy.

LSW has 10 employees and 492 volunteers. It teaches 450 adult learners through one-on-one learning partnerships with trained volunteer tutors at one location in downtown Milwaukee. LSW also partners with WRTP/BIG STEP to prepare workers for careers in construction and manufacturing. The organization’s annual budget is $754,000, and is funded mainly through private donations.

Milwaukee Achiever was founded in 1983 by the presidents of Alverno College, Cardinal Stritch University and Mount Mary University in response to a study that showed one in six of Milwaukee’s adults were functionally illiterate.

Milwaukee Achiever has 10 employees and 150 volunteer tutors. It offers classes, mini-labs and one-on-one tutoring to 700 adult learners at five Milwaukee locations. Milwaukee Achiever also has a partnership with Milwaukee Area Technical College to offer resources to students, and offers High School Equivalency Diploma classes for adults at North Division High School, ResCare and Silver Spring Neighborhood Center. With an annual budget of $576,000, the nonprofit receives most of its funding through government grants and contracts.

“LSW is really well-known for their Wilson Reading program, which targets some of our lower or non-readers,” McCoy said. “We tend to focus on higher level HSE programs.”

“As we come together as one organization after July 1, our intention is to offer their HSED program here at Literacy Services. And we’ll be able to start to train the Milwaukee Achiever team and their tutors to deploy the Wilson Reading System at multiple locations,” Duiven said.

The merger helps both organizations become more financially sustainable by combining their different revenue streams, Duiven said. And it helps them come into compliance with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which goes into effect July 1 and is focused on improving the country’s public workforce system.

The merged organization may add more teaching locations to further its impact, Duiven said.

“With our various strengths and quality of programming, I think there’s an opportunity for additional locations and additional partnerships,” she said. “There is more need on the northwest side than is currently being met, so we would certainly be looking there for opportunities.”

Milwaukee Achiever approached LSW about the merger, partly due to financial considerations, but also because there are several organizations performing similar adult education work in Milwaukee.

“Certainly, Milwaukee Achiever has, like many nonprofits in the city, have had our fair share of ebb and flow,” McCoy said. “For us, what we were really looking for was a way to maximize resources and build a coalition of literacy. It was really looking at ‘Who else does what we do best and how can we come together as one to do it even better?’”

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Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

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