Goodbye, FLC

John and intern, Amanda Terrell at the 2013 Florida Literacy Conference

John and Amanda Terrell at the 2013 Florida Literacy Conference

Some people say they’re not much for goodbyes, and then start saying goodbye. When I left New York, I gave my friends a two-week notice after having known that I would become an AmeriCorps VISTA with FLC for at least two months prior. I guess you could say I’m not one of those people. Instead, I took the time before I left to do things worth remembering and say things worth listening to without falling under the monotony of gonna-miss-yous and the like. I’d like to do that now.

When I first began here at FLC, I was excited to be a part of an organization that provided support to the community-based literacy programs throughout Florida—I had tutored before and considered going into TESOL for a year or so but decided teaching wasn’t for me. While sitting at my desk early in my year of service, I researched and found eye-opening statistics on the correlation of literacy and poverty, how low literacy skills affect a person’s life, and how much more of a chance an adult has at success if they receive their GED certificate.

As telling as the numbers were, it wasn’t until the FLC Annual Meeting at the Florida Literacy Conference, after what had already been two days of plus-12-hour event coordination and many cups of coffee, when I truly understood just how much of an impact we make on an adult learner’s life. During the meeting, students were allowed to come to the front of the room and read their stories.

After several student stories, a tall, slender man, who seemed too frail to be 35, approached the microphone with a paper in his two shaky hands. He told his story of how he came from a low-income family and dropped out of school to work in a factory in Ohio, where his right hand got severed in the machinery. Soon after the occurrence he quit, and having little money, he became homeless and soon developed an addiction to crack cocaine.

His rock bottom came when he ended him up in a hospital after he broke bones in both his legs escaping a garbage truck that had loaded his bed, a dumpster, into its bed. He then enrolled in a rehabilitation program while in jail and started taking adult education classes to take the GED test.

At the time he read his story to the audience, he still remained drug-free and passed the GED just a few weeks earlier with plans to enroll in a state college. His success after such hardships was what made me realize how valuable our work is. Of course, I already knew the correlation between education and poverty, but no amount of statistics could legitimize our work more than his story ever did.

I’ll never forget that story and how it’s just one of the thousands of stories like it. That’s what our work does for the people we serve; it enables and empowers them to find success. And that’s why I’m glad I made a living working as a VISTA rather than making a killing doing something less meaningful.

-John Sanchez, AmeriCorps VISTA

FLC VISTA Facts

  • In FY2012, FLC VISTA’s raised $64,803.54 in cash resources
  • FLC VISTAs are responsible for setting up a computer lab at two partner sites in FY 2012 
  • FLC VISTA’s recruited 290 community volunteers throughout the state
  • 83% of students report gains in employment after participating in projects coordinated by FLC VISTAs
  • The VISTA at Family Literacy Academy of Immokalee organized donations for their annual fundraiser that totaled over $6,000

FLC VISTAs and MLK National Day of Service

As you might have heard, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a National Day of Service. Each year, Americans across the country answer that question by coming together on the King Holiday to serve their neighbors and communities. The MLK Day of Service is a part of United We Serve, the President’s national call to service initiative. It calls for Americans from all walks of life to work together to provide solutions to our most pressing national problems.

VISTAs with the Florida Literacy Coalition are celebrating with service projects throughout the state. See what is going on in your area and celebrate Dr. King’s legacy!

Family Literacy Academy of Immokalee- Grand Opening of the Community Technology Center
Donna Johnston from the Family Literacy Academy of Immokalee is coordinating the grand opening of the community’s new technology center. FLAI is partnering with local RSVP members to welcome residents and demonstrate services that will be available to Farmworker Village and others in the area.

Location: Family Literacy Academy of Immokalee/Collier Housing Authority
1996 Alexander Circle
Immokalee, FL

Marion County Literacy Council- Fire Safety
Mariangel Ayala from the Marion County Literacy Council has partnered with the Ocala Fire Department for the National Day of Service. The Chief will be giving a presentation on Fire Safety and passing out fire detectors to all students.

Location: Marion County Literacy Council
120 SW 5th St
Ocala, FL 34471

United Methodist Cooperative Ministries- Martin Luther King, Jr. Cultural Celebration for the Highpoint Community
Jaclyn Boland and the United Methodist Cooperative Ministries has been working with a youth leadership group in the Highpoint community to put on this cultural celebration event. Highpoint is a diverse community. This eventw ill give all cultural grousp the opportunity to come together. There will also be a choral reading of MLK’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Location: Highpoint YMCA
5345 Laurel Place
Clearwater, FL 33760

Time: 7 pm

Literacy Council of Sarasota- A Celebration Honoring the Life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 
Hank Hollins and the Literacy Council of Sarasota are partnering with AmeriCorps State and National serving Suncoast seniors and R.S.V.P. to put on this event. The event will be a daylong affair focused on literacy and diversity and geared toward school-age children (through high school).  Leading up to the event will be a book drive with Senior Friendship Centers in six counties acting as new book collection sites (where seniors will also have the option to sponsor the purchase of a book for a youth).  Each young person that comes to the MLK Day celebration will receive an age-appropriate book.

Location: 1888 Brother Geenen Way
Sarasota, FL 34236

Florida Literacy Coalition- Parramore Clean-up with the City of Orlando
John Sanchez and Camille Davidson from the Florida Literacy Coalition will be working with the City of Orlando and Orlando Cares as part of a Parramore Clean-up Project on January 21.

Location: FAMU College of Law
201 Beggs Ave
Orlando, FL

To find more events in your area- go to www.mlkday.gov

Welcome to FLC John Sanchez!

John Sanchez

My name is John and I’ll be joining FLC this year as an AmeriCorps VISTA.  I grew up on (not in) Long Island about an hour’s train ride from New York City. Prior to moving down to Florida, I graduated Stony Brook University with a B. A. in Music and in Spanish Language & Literature. While studying in school, I served as a volunteer adult literacy tutor on and off campus and worked with the New York Police & Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund as a Development Intern.  As for my life outside of work, I enjoy riding bikes, reading books, and playing board games.

My joining the FLC team is in many ways a combination of my passions for literacy education and the nonprofit sector.  In terms of my blog posts, I will mainly focus on financial, health, and digital literacy, providing you with relevant resources that you may use in your teaching. I will also be exploring other mediums of social media to share information with you! But I’ll have more on that in the coming weeks. As for now, I’m excited to begin my year at FLC and work with some of you in the future!

Farewell!

This is my last day in service to Americorps VISTA. It’s been a great time managing social media and learning about what people are doing in literacy. During this time I’ve made friendships and meet really great people doing things for their community. My favorite quote is “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” and I continue to be amazed and inspired by students and teachers who are changing their world.

Thank you for reading and sharing with me!

Annie Schmidt

SB Idea and Financial Literacy

Hello, my name is Adriana Alvarez and I am currently serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member for S.B. Idea, Inc (SBI). SBI is a non-profit organization that runs family literacy academies in Palm Beach County, Florida with a mission to: “empower families academically and economically for self-sufficiency”.  April is not only Volunteer Month but also Financial Literacy Month and as a part of my yearlong service, I am implementing a financial literacy component into the family literacy curriculum.

Although I have no skills training with financial literacy, my parents instilled in me the importance of good financial habits, and how developing good financial habits can lead you to achieve various goals in your life, such as owning a home. Financial literacy is so important to the economic success of a family. I consider achieving the goal of implementing a financial literacy component as the most important of my VISTA commitments. In order to achieve this, I have helped SBI partner up with many useful resources in the community. SBI welcomed VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistant) representative and Senior Tax Consultant for the IRS, Shanana Bartolomei, into our academies to give a workshop on the importance of filing your taxes and how to get them filed for free.

SBI also partnered with PNC Bank, who is sending representatives to do a variety of workshops with our adult students as well as their children. PNC Bank currently runs a program titled “S” is for Savings”, in which PNC has partnered with Sesame Street to develop a child-friendly program in order to get children thinking about good financial habits, and to also get parents more involved in developing good financial habits with their children. I will be working closely with PNC representative from our local Lantana and Jog Branch to continue giving workshops on useful topics such as “How to get out of Debt”.

By the end of the school year I will assist our program mentor in giving an in-service workshop to our current teaching staff on how to implement financial literacy into their already existing curriculum. This will ensure that financial literacy becomes a staple in the learning achieved at the SBI family literacy academies.

As I have been experiencing this journey, I have found three easy and useful things everyone should consider when developing good financial habits:

1) Pay Yourself First. Having a savings account or an emergency fund can always help with life’s bumpy roads.
2) Know The Difference Between Needs And Wants. Understanding and accepting this difference makes developing good financial habits easier
3) The Power of Interest. Most financial institutions will stress the power of interest both negatively, when your paying interest on debt, and positively, when your earning money for doing nothing.

Jakita Allen: Financial literacy and the Adult Literacy League

There’s something about the combination of New Year’s resolutions and tax deadlines that makes most of us want to get our financial houses in order. Managing your money can seem like a daunting chore to anyone, but that can be especially true for adult learners.  While we certainly know several successful students, many often do not have the skills to create their own financial plan. Many students struggle not only with text literacy, but also with numeracy, or number literacy, which can make such chores even more intimidating. For the past nine months, the Adult Literacy League (ALL) has tackled this challenge for the students we serve, including those learning English and those with literacy skills below the 5th grade level.

The Adult Literacy League continuously provides training and support to tutors, so they can reach beyond the standard literacy curriculum to help students build lives for their families that are financially stable and sustainable. Tutors fight illiteracy on the front lines by working with adult learners on a one-to-one basis to help them achieve their personal goals. These goals are the benchmarks our students use to measure their own success. We often receive reports that say things like, “Now, I can read my paycheck!” Imagine reaching that milestone after already working for twenty years.

In our job skills classes, we have helped students write resumes, practice interview techniques, apply for jobs on line, and learn important job retention skills. In just the past year, at least 35 of our students have found jobs, 20 obtained first-time employment, and an even greater number have improved their work situation. This is one of the key outcomes we use to measure whether our students are gaining financial stability. We are also very proud of those students, about 20, who have continued their education to get a GED and/or post-secondary education or training.

Our “More for the Money” program offers classes to all students, including those learning English.  In this class, I helped students learn to make a spending plan by making financial goals, determining the steps they needed to get there, and recording their progress. We talked about things as simple as writing checks, how to manage a bank account, and keeping track of the money we spend. We used the “Control Your Money” workbook from New Readers Press, which is a little easier for students at the lower literacy levels. The Adult Literacy League is now working with an experienced volunteer to redesign elements of the FDIC “Money Smart” curriculum to provide classes for our students.

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We are proud to report that our instructors, tutors, and students have reported more than 200 positive outcomes based on improved financial sustainability.  New jobs, better jobs, career training, workable resumes, job interviews, budgeting skills, new bank counts, and savings & retirement plans.  Improving these skills helps our students develop their basic skills and transform the future for themselves, their families, and their communities.

Jonel Persinger: Americorps* VISTA from a Site Supervisor perspective

As an AmeriCorps VISTA supervisor, I have witnessed literal miracles as needs have been met for our non-profit agency.  Most non-profits during these tough times are running on low fumes: lack of funding, staff support, community connections [as they are going through tough times too], and program structures being compromised by increasing demands while resources remain shallow.  In short, we are all doing more with less.  I first became introduced to AmeriCorps VISTA through the suggestion of a fellow agency about 3 years ago and what an amazing adventure it has been.   Upon registering, I not only inherited great program support, but I shared in a fundamental passionate mission—the war on poverty.

Both of my VISTA ‘s that I have been privileged to work with have been sharp, creative, energetic women.  As each stepped across the threshold of grant wonderland, recruitment/retention challenges, and radical program changes, they grasped the vision of the mission quickly and securely.  Out in the field they’ve loved influencing the community to also see the vision of AmeriCorps and Volusia Literacy Council.  Monies have been raised, partnerships established, fundraisers ‘funded’ with in-kind donations and gifts, community awareness cultivated, volunteers recruited and recently,  financial and workforce literacy birthed [two new programs].  Can I go on?  Yes, I could go on about the programs that have led to a stronger, brighter program—at the very least I will say, we would not be where we are today without them.  Thank you ladies!!

I must give outstanding credit to the overseer of the VISTA program for our state, Florida Literacy Coalition.  They are an amazing support system to the program and the challenges we face.  Through state collaborations, training in the mission, navigating through paperwork [and SO MUCH more]—WHEW! All I can say is, “I am ‘SO RELIEVED’ they are there for us!”  I literally feel I could call them at 2am and they would be there.  [Don’t worry FLC, I’ll try not to make a habit of it.]  They too share the passionate mission and through that passion they hold us little Community Based Organizations’s all together through their grant leadership, program encouragement, resource provision and most importantly keeping us on time with our quarterly reports.  😉  (Can I do the text wink here?)

It has been an honor to supervise the VISTA program and my heart is full of the deepest gratitude for those who provide and serve in AmeriCorps.  I stand by their commission of the war against poverty with unfailing faith.  Each person who has the privilege of being a recipient of their services has been awarded a great opportunity to change their life and move forward toward their dreams.  We need you AmeriCorps VISTA and we cannot thank you enough for the difference you make: one mission, one program, one incredible life at a time.

Zach Lynn: A Potential VISTA has Great Potential

The non-profit world is hectic.  I’ve never been in an environment as fast-paced, demanding, exciting, and dynamic.  A day can start without me knowing it and end long after I thought I’d be leaving the office.  It’s not hard to get so caught up in my work that I forget lunch breaks even existed.  My mission is all-encompassing.  My current goal: find an AmeriCorps*VISTA.

New AmeriCorps*VISTAs (Volunteers in Service to America) start their journey by creating an application on the AmeriCorps website.  They can search through work opportunities based on their interests, areas of expertise, or location.  Some VISTAs want to stick with their community and find a non-profit organization in their neighborhood while others want to branch out and explore a new part of the country.  After some candidate selections and interviews, there’s a new bright and shining face in a lucky non-profit’s office, ready to make America a better place.

As a former VISTA at the Adult Literacy League, I had many hectic days.  Whether I was building relationships “in the field” with local community members or sitting in a cubicle writing reports, my days were full and exciting.  I was luckily given the opportunity to see my developments continue to grow when I was offered a position on the Adult Literacy League’s staff as the Volunteer Coordinator after my VISTA year of service.  Now I’m searching for a new VISTA to continue the great work for which AmeriCorps members are famous.

A strong candidate can handle a demanding workload and will create projects that enhance the organization in ways never thought of before… Such as creating a social media outreach plan, finding new ways to reach clients and volunteers, and develop new programs and projects.  VISTA development work strengthens an organization’s mission.

While I’m currently going through applications, I’m looking for candidates that have a strong goal for themselves, as well.  Good VISTAs know they can increase their own skills while also helping their community.  At the Adult Literacy League we want to maximize our VISTA’s potential by utilizing their abilities and helping them work on new skills.  Not only will it help them, but their growth will help us!

Central Florida needs great people that are hard workers, love variety, have goals, and want to serve people in their community.  Central Florida needs AmeriCorps*VISTAs.  Sign up today on the AmeriCorps website and change lives… Hopefully your application ends up on my desk!