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Community Partner Spotlight: Ozark Literacy Council

This Spring, the Cisneros Center is partnering with several nonprofit organizations and Tyson Foods to offer workplace education to immigrant and migrant workers at the Randall Rd. Plant. This novel program allows workers to access services that help them improve their lives and increase their independence. Ozark Literacy Council (OLC) is one of the fantastic organizations participating in the Workplace Education Program. Read our interview with Margot Lamaster, Executive Director of OLC.

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What's the history of Ozark Literacy Council?

We’re a 52 year old organization and the oldest and largest literacy council in Arkansas. We were founded in 1964 using the Laubach literacy method which uses volunteer tutors working one-on-one with adults who needed help improving their English literacy skills. As the first literacy council in the state, we helped launch other councils in the region and helped start what is now our statewide umbrella organization, Arkansas Literacy Councils. We’ve grown over the years due to an increasing demand in the area, which in part is due to Northwest Arkansas’ growing immigrant population. We’ve adjusted to the increased demand by offering classroom instruction in addition to one-on-one tutoring and starting satellite locations.

All of our tutors are volunteers who complete our tutor training. We provide instruction in Adult Basic Literacy and English as a Second Language. Our tutors help people improve their reading, writing and conversational skills in English, in addition to achieving a diversity of goals such as obtaining a driver’s license, getting a GED, improving communication with their child’s teachers, navigating health care options, and obtaining American citizenship. In addition to helping people with basic life skills, our curriculum is designed around four themes: Health, Finance, Civic, and Workforce Literacy.

This past year we served close to 400 adults with the help of about 130 volunteer tutors and 4 AmeriCorps service members, which equals over 16,500 instructional hours. We have a small staff--two full time and three part time. We’re really proud of the impact our volunteers make on this community. They devote a lot of their time and energy to helping people and they develop friendships that last a lifetime.

How can people access your services?

In order to sign up, we ask that people come to our main office and go through our intake process so we can determine their skill level, schedule, and learning goals. We track these goals and make sure that people are getting what they came here to accomplish.

All of our services are free of charge. We’re able to provide such quality programs because we have dedicated volunteers who are passionate about our mission. People are often amazed that we have such a professional program that is completely free of charge.

I think one of the things that keep some people away from seeking our services is finding time in their busy work and life schedules. We understand how difficult it is to be an adult and to continue your education. We’re here to work with people’s schedules in the best way we can. We’re open mornings and evenings at our main location. At the Springdale Library, we offer services all day and on the weekends too.

Why is Ozark Literacy Program participating in the Tyson Foods Workplace Education Program?

Teaching classes in the Tyson plant has been a goal of our board for a number of years. Tyson Foods awarded us a three year grant in 2014, and a portion of it was devoted to starting a literacy program in one of the area plants. We spent some time trying to figure out how to access the appropriate plant personnel to get the program started. It was not until we met Chaplain Kevin that we really started to move forward with some momentum. When we were conducting the in-plant survey at the beginning of the program a third of the employees signed up to participate in the Workplace Education program and 85% of those who signed up expressed a need for ESL. We’re maintaining bi-weekly ESL classes in the plant at 5am, 6am, 8pm and 9pm, which coincides with the beginning and end of the employee shifts.

Getting the program off the ground has been a huge amount of work. We’ve needed all hands on deck and The Cisneros Center has been a big support and helped a lot with recruitment, marketing and scheduling. All of those women, Donna, Emily, and Zessna, are amazing and so passionate. We’re all coming together as a team to make this work. I am so thankful for the involvement of The Cisneros Center and the support of Chaplain Kevin.

Cisneros Center for New Americans

 

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