OFLP strives to encourage community learning
The Ozark Foothills Literacy Project (OFLP) services Sharp, Fulton, Izard and Independence Counties. AmeriCorps members and volunteer tutors help adults learn English or improve their reading skills. By helping adults speak English or read better, OFLP is fostering new relationships and working to build a more confident, educated and informed community.
The services provided by the OFLP are adult basic education, which is one-to-one tutoring for students who read below an 8th grade level. They also provide ESL services, one-to-one tutoring for students who do not read, write or speak English fluently.
OFLP was founded in 2007 by the Jubilee Family Church as a separate non-profit organization. The church was looking for a service project and realized that there wasn't anything in place to help adults who didn't read well.
They began the Independence County Literacy Council to fill that gap. Until 2010 the Literacy Project was an all-volunteer organization. At that point, the church took the remaining funds for the organization and hired a part-time director, Nicole Stroud.
The OFLP has two part-time office assistants, one Experience Works staff member and four AmeriCorps members. Experience Works is a federally funded program that helps people 55 and older re-enter the workforce. AmeriCorps (AC) is also a federally funded program that pays individuals a living stipend in exchange for a one year commitment of service. Once AC members have completed one year of service, they are also awarded an educational award to put towards tuition or student loans at a school of their choice.
In 2010, two OFLP volunteer tutors, Caron Wallman and Pam Keough were considering beginning a literacy council in Fulton and Sharp counties and decided to attend a tutor workshop at the Literacy Project. After some discussion, they paired with the Lit. Project and the Ozark Foothills Literacy Project was born. In 2013, OFLP expanded to include Izard County as well.
On Oct. 1, OFLP hired a new director, Lauren Willitte. Willitte started serving the OFLP as an AmeriCorps member last October. She is a certified English teacher and spent five years teaching at various colleges. As the new director, Willitte's main goals are to continue leading the OFLP in the same direction, as well as create a larger presence in the local community. "All in all, I'd like to see OFLP become an educational resource for adults looking to learn new skills to help them improve their quality of life, get a job, learn English, help their children with homework -- the list could go on and on. I'd also like to see OFLP grow into our other service counties and for more people in Sharp, Fulton and Izard Counties to know about our program and take part in it by volunteering or by becoming a student," Willitte said.
Right now the OFLP is servicing about 100 students a year with about 30 volunteers/students. Currently there are about 38 students receiving services. "About 20 percent of our students are working to improve their reading skills, and about 80 percent of our students are working to learn English. Even though we mainly serve students through one-on-one tutoring, we feel as though our reach is much wider since we positively impact our students' families as well," Willitte said.
The main office is located in Batesville at the First United Methodist Church of Batesville. "We use their former parsonage for our office space, classrooms and gatherings. Because they've welcomed us onto their church campus, we've really been able to continue to grow," Willitte said.
Our one-on-one tutoring program is the heart of what we do. Community volunteers are trained to work with students to learn how to read, or speak English. Tutors meet with their students for 2-3 hours each week. "We provide free training and materials to both students and tutors. We've also begun offering our students what we're calling "Independent Study" in order to allow them to begin learning even before they have a tutor or to practice on their own in addition to meeting with a tutor. We help them learn to use a computer, if they don't know how, and allow them to use some of the books and workbooks at our office to get in some extra practice. Students seem to be enjoying this option so far and we're hoping that we'll be able to continue to improve this service as well," Willitte said.
Like most non-profit organizations, funding is a struggle. Their primary funding comes from the Arkansas Literacy Councils (ALC). The ALC is a network of county-level literacy councils spread across the state. The OFLP have been a United Way Agency since 2012. "It is very encouraging to receive support from our local communities. In addition to the financial support from United Way, we also appreciate being a part of the network of services its member organizations provide. Many of our students have needs outside of educational ones, and participating in United Way will put us in a good position to make the right referrals for our students," Willitte said.
They also receive donations from businesses and people within the community. "We are very thankful for any donation and for all our funding and volunteers," she said. The OFLP partners with United Way of Independence County, Arkansas Literacy Councils and AmeriCorps.
The mission of the OFLP is to empower adults and improve communities through teaching literacy.
For more information on the OFLP, please contact 1-870-793-5912.