The gift of literacy

Literacy Services of WIsconsin

Wise (left) is en route to earning her GED with weekly help from volunteer tutors like Gosnell.

When Darlene Wise completes her General Education Development tests, she will be the first of her mother’s seven children to secure a high school-level education through a traditional track.

The day she holds her diploma in her hands, she will be among the “happiest” people in Milwaukee, she said.

Wise, a lifelong Milwaukee resident, is pursuing her GED with help from Literacy Services of Wisconsin, a Milwaukee nonprofit that educates adults who have struggled academically so they can live more independent and productive lives.

Wise is one of about 400 students who walk through the doors of Literacy Services each week for assistance in English language learning, adult basic education programs, GED preparation, computer literacy, financial literacy and workforce readiness.

Wise (left) is en route to earning her GED with weekly help from volunteer tutors like Gosnell.
Wise (left) is en route to earning her GED with weekly help from volunteer tutors like Gosnell.

Students pay a one-time fee and in return receive one-on-one tutoring for as long as they need to achieve their literacy goals.

Wise began attending tutoring sessions at Literacy Services’ current Plankinton Avenue location in March 2014 so she could fulfill her GED, expand her career options, and assist her own children and grandchildren with mastering reading and language.

Wise takes lessons at Literacy Services three different times per week, working with three assigned volunteer tutors who guide her through reading passages, sets of questions related to those passages and writing exercises. Among Wise’s tutors is Beth Gosnell, an account manager at Travelers Insurance in Brookfield who devotes an hour-and-a-half each week to literacy coaching.

Gosnell, now in her third year of volunteering at the center’s current location, loves to read and said it’s hard to imagine anyone not being able to read. She enjoys tutoring for Literacy Services as much as she enjoys reading and finds her volunteer experience a rewarding one.

“It’s like helping people understand daily things that everybody needs,” Gosnell said.

Wise’s relationships with her tutors are “fabulous” and “wonderful,” she said, as they work patiently with her word by word and page by page.

Thanks to Literacy Services’ brigade of tutors, the center has the ability to personalize learning for its scores of adult students, according to staff.

“It’s crucial that we have volunteer tutors, because we rely on the tutors to assist us with the daily incoming of students,” said Bianca Ortiz, assistant director of Adult Basic Education. “We wouldn’t have the staff support to access as many students as we’re able to with volunteer support.”

More than 300 volunteer tutors, many of them from the region’s business community, currently donate their time and talent to the center. Beyond helping students excel in literacy, tutors’ support often heightens students’ sense of confidence, according to the organization’s executive director, Ginger Duiven.

“I also hear very commonly that students improve their confidence and self-esteem, and that’s a really big sort of secondary outcome,” Duiven said, adding that the transformation can be a physical one, as improved literacy skills lead to stronger posture and better eye contact.

Tutors’ drive to help students chart better futures by building up literacy skills has in many instances left her “speechless,” Duiven said.

“These folks are really selfless and reliable, and they have amazing character and amazing capacity and compassion,” she said. “They’re really sort of the unsung heroes of our community.”

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