Thursday, March 26, 2009

Vance C. Miller, Jr. Memorial Golf Tournament

Partnerships are vital to a non profit. Without them we could not exist. We could not serve the people. Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT) has been very fortunate to have the Vance C. Miller Family as a long time partner in our mission to raise adult literacy rates in Texas. Vance and Tincy have long carried the banner for adult literacy on the local, state and national levels. Tincy has served on the LIFT board and on the Texas State Board of Education. They are great friends to LIFT.

For the past twelve years, the Miller Family along with their friends, family and business associates, have hosted the Vance C. Miller, Jr. Memorial Golf Tournament. Proceeds from the event are shared between LIFT and the Vance C. Miller, Jr. Classical Guitar Scholarship atSMU.

This year's tournament is this upcoming Monday, March 30th at Prestonwood Country Club Hills Course in Plano, TX. I never had the good fortune to meet Vance, Jr. but he must have been a wonderful man to be surrounded by great friends and family who continue to celebrate his life with his first love - a great game of golf with good friends.

See you on the links!

Monday, March 23, 2009

SpeedPro Imaging Grand Opening Benefits LIFT

Raising money for a non profit is a many varied and splendorous thing, especially in these challenging economic times. Before someone invests in your mission, you need to show them their hard earned dollars and time are going to be well used.

I explain that non profit fundraising is a lot like dating. Relationships must be built. First you get to know each other and then after a while, you start to dance. But sometimes you meet someone and it just clicks. Such is the case with Eric Rozier and SpeedPro Imaging of Greater Dallas.

Eric and I first met at a Coffee Cup Connection event, sponsored by the Dallas Chamber of Commerce. A Coffee Cup Connection is sort of like speed dating - you move between tables of 6-8 and everyone gets about a minute to tell about their business and the types of customers or leads they are looking for. Eric was intrigued by LIFT and realized the importance of the work we do teaching adults to read, so he visited our downtown Dallas site. He decided then and there to become a LIFT partner.

Fast forward just a few weeks and this Thursday, March 26th, SpeedPro Imaging of Greater Dallas will have its Grand Opening and owner Eric Rozier has arranged for the event to benefit LIFT. He opened his Rolodex and is asking attendees to donate their time or their money to LIFT. He didn't have to do this - he is giving from the goodness of his heart. An opportunity like this is golden for LIFT - we are able to reach an audience that, in all honesty, probably does not know about LIFT. We will be able to educate at least 100 more people about the insidious nature of adult illiteracy and how pervasive it is in North Texas.

So, thank you Eric and SpeedPro Imaging of Greater Dallas. It is partnerships like this that keep us going. See you Thursday night!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

LIFT February Statistics

I love research - yeah - I was one of those students who really got into term papers. I love statistics and supporting evidence. It isn't just enough for me to tell you what a great job LIFT is doing teaching adults to read for free - our stats speak for themselves. So, let's look at LIFT stats for the time period of March 1, 2008 - February 28, 2009.

Number of Adult Learners Served: 8,527
Number of classes: 7,715
Class Hours (includes computer lab) 118,741

66% learners were female, 34% were male with an average age of 37. 59% were Hispanic, 28% African American, 3% Caucasian, 8% Asian and 2% Other.

67% of the Adult Literacy learners completed their course. 82% of the learners in Adult Literacy classes who completed their course improved at least one grade level. 99% of the Adult Literacy learners who completed their course improved on at least half of their goals.

63% of the English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) learners completed their course. 87% of these learners who completed the course improved at least one competency level. 99% of these learners who completed the course improved on at least half of their goals.

GED Direct, LIFT's on line distance learning GED prep course (which incidentally is the only one of its kind in the nation) has 334 students who have logged 1,000 hours of study time.

LIFT Family Literacy Workshops reached 2,124 families.

Since June 1, 2008 our volunteers have given us 19,283 volunteer hours which translates to a monetary value of $376,191.82.

I think the numbers speak for themselves, don't you?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Food for Thought

Here is a little known fact that should make you sit up, take notice and think. Do you know how the state of Texas determines the number of prison cells that will be needed? By the number of children failing third grade! And this is not only Texas. I googled "how do they determine how many prison cells to build in Texas" and found this on the Educational Cyberplayground website.
In California "if the child isn't reading on 4th grade level when tested they will plan to budget building another jail cell. “Based on this year’s fourth-grade reading scores,”
The former governor of Indiana has stated that determining the number of new prisons to build is based, in part, on the number of second graders not reading at second-grade level. Low literacy is the socio-economic factor prison inmates have most in common.
In Arizona officials have found they can use the rate of illiteracy to help calculate future prison needs. Evidence shows that children who do not read by third grade often fail to catch up and are more likely to drop out of school, take drugs, or go to prison.

Here is something else you have probably never thought of. From first through third grades, children are learning to read. From fourth grade on, children are reading to learn. If children don't have the reading skills they need by the time they start fourth grade it is an uphill battle and if they don't have someone (a parent, a mentor, a teacher) who is in their corner, this is a battle many of them lose. 75% of the prison population cannot read better than a fourth grade level, meaning they are functionally illiterate.

So what can we do? Alot! Make sure a child knows how to read and is reading on grade level by the fourth grade. Support Adult Family Literacy programs that teach parents how to read and how to read to their children. Volunteer to be a reading tutor at your local grade school. Volunteer to teach adults to read so they in turn can read to their children and end the cycle of illiteracy.

People can re-offend, fall off the wagon, start abusing again, but once you learn to read, you are never a non-reader. Learning to read is a lifetime fix to a life long problem.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

President's Budget Could Reduce Charitable Giving

There is a proposal in President Obama's Budget that is going to impact donations to non profits in a big way. This proposal would impose new limits on charitable tax deductions. People earning more than $250,000 annually can currently calim up to a 35 percent deduction. Under the new budget this deduction would drop to 28% . Could your budget take a 7% hit? Probably not.

According to an e-mail I received from the Association of Fundraising Professionals (and I quote) "Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy recently noted that the budget proposal to limit deductions and raise rates, if applied in 2006, would have reduced giving by nearly $4 billion. "

That's alot of lost funding - funding that could teach an adult to read, funding that could feed a hungry child, funding that could improve the lives of Americans.

What can you do? Simple - write your Congressman or Congresswoman. Let them know what kind of an impact a cut like this can have. That's what is great about America - we have the opportunity to make our voices heard, so let's make them heard!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Salute to Adult Learners

I am in awe of our adult learners, those individuals who decide for whatever reason that they need to better their reading skills. How hard it must be to take a deep breath and walk through those doors and admit that you can't read well or at all.

Everybody knows that ANYONE can read - you must be really stupid if you can't read, right? Or you just spent too much time goofing off in school - if you had been a better person, you would have learned to read, right?

WRONG on so many levels. 20% of the adult learners are LIFT were born and raised in this country and I would gather the majority of them attended school at least for a few years and yet they cannot read well enough to understand the newspaper. We estimate that the majority of adult learners who come to LIFT have undiagnosed learning differences. They are at LIFT not because they goofed off in school or are stupid - some where along the lines they just didn't get it.

49% of the adults in Dallas County cannot read better than a fourth grade. To show you what that means, here is an excerpt from a fourth grade level book:
There was something furry lying under one of the buses. It was almost hidden under all
the leaves, but Lily had spotted it. What's that?" Lily woofed curiously to herself. Even
though she knew she should get home right away, she couldn't resist taking a little look.
"I'd better be careful, though," she yapped. "It might be dangerous."
These are people who can't read the newspaper, cannot understand the notes that come with a prescription.

We all have faced hard things in our lives and know how difficult it is to just admit we need help. To those adult learners who have faced their fears and shortcomings and decided to take their future into their own hands - I salute you.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Thank yous - Part II

As I mentioned in a previous post, LIFT honored Volunteers and Donors of Distinction at a luncheon on Friday February 27th at the Prestonwood Country Club. LIFT and all other non profits could not exist without our donors. I like to say non profits are like Blanche Dubois - we rely upon the kindness of others. Philanthrophy is pretty amazing when you think about it - people giving their hard earned dollars to help people they don't even know. Wow.

In light of that, let me share remarks and thanks from LIFT Executive Director, Sonyia Hartwell, about our Donors of Distinction. Without them, LIFT would not be here.

Junior League of Dallas - For the past several years, the Junior League of Dallas has partnered with LIFT to not only fund some programming but also to place volunteers in classroom and special event positions. Many of these women remain at LIFT long after they have fulfilled the Junior League of Dallas volunteer commitment and remain as literacy volunteers because of their personal dedication. Junior League has a long history of fostering that spirit of volunteerism and community among its members.

Half Price Books - Known for their support of literacy causes and their promotion of reading, Half Price Books has a long history of support for LIFT and its events and programs. As a premier sponsor of the annual Champions of Literacy Luncheon and Adult Spelling Bee, Half Price Books provides much needed funds to purchase books for adult learners. Support from Half Price Books comes in other tangible and intangible ways. Each year they donate boxes of books to the family literacy program and dozens of gift cards for raffle and door prize packages. For the past six years, Mark Wren from the staff of Half Price Books has been on the LIFT board of directors. Since 2007, Mark has worked tirelessly and with impassioned commitment as the president of that body.

The Vance C. Miller Family - For as long as anyone at LIFT can remember, the Vance Miller family has been associated with supporting literacy and LIFT in particular. Geraldine, "Tincy" Miller serves on the state board of education and is a past member and board president of LIFT. Every year Vance and his sons host their friends and colleagues in a charity golf tournament honoring the late Vance Miller, Jr. that benefits LIFT to the tune of five figures annually. Their company, The Henry S. Miller Company, regularly sponsors the Champions of Literacy luncheon. Greg Miller serves on the LIFT board of directors.

CITIgroup Foundation and CitiCards - Most recently, CITI acted as the title sponsor for the 2008 Champions of Literacy Luncheon. Citi's Foundation adds to that considerable financial commitment by funding programs independent of any event.

Verizon and Verizon Foundation - Known internationally for their support of literacy programs and literacy advocacy organizations, Verizon has been one of LIFT's most steadfast supporters. In 2008, the foundation funded more than 2,500 books for LIFT's ESL program and sponsored the much needed redesign of LIFT's website. Mid year, Verizon Read surprised LIFT with a gift of more than $27,000 in direct contributions from their customers bills. Their lifetime support of LIFT is in excess of half a million dollars.

David M. Crowley Foundation - Before his passing in August 2003, Mr. David M. Crowley, a successful Dallas investor was made an advocate of adult literacy and a volunteer teachers at LIFT. During his lifetime, he and his wife Mary made generous gifts to LIFT annually. With the formation of the David M. Crowley Foundation, came an even more generous unrestricted annual grant that has been of immeasurable help to sustaining LIFT's growth. To date the Crowley family has made gifts to LIFT in it's quest to reduce adult illiteracy in the amount of three quarters of a million dollars.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Thank yous - Part I

On February 27, 2009 Literacy Instruction for Texas honored volunteers and donors of distinction with a luncheon at the Prestonwood Country Club (for which I want to add a big thank you to the Vance C. Miller family for generously underwriting this year's luncheon).

Executive Director Sonyia Hartwell thanked some of our volunteers for contributions to LIFT in 2008 and I want to post her remarks.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of LIFT. Without them, LIFT could not possibly serve more than 8,000 adult learners in one year. Truth be told, volunteering is really work without pay. The same tasks are performed, the same standards apply and the same results are achieved. In the case of LIFT, in 2008 more than 500 volunteers contributed the equivalent of a half million dollars in paid services.

Most volunteer to provide classroom instruction and encouragement to adult learners. Others serve on the board of directors making policy and raising money and awareness in support of adult literacy. Some come to help around the offices and learning center with administrative and fund development tasks. All of them are invaluable to the program and participants.

We value and admire each of these selfless acts of giving. Today there are a few that we wish to acknowledge for unique contributions to LIFT in 2008.

  • Sandy McFeeley for developing and hosting the LIFT Reading Group, an interactive reading group for adult learners to share the joy of reading and books with each other.

  • Arnell Thompson for creating and teaching the afternoon math class to help those who are seeking extra tutoring.

  • Stefon Chandler for providing gifts to the adult learners in the night program for their annual holiday party

  • Hector, Bill and Richard for assisting the LIFT IT team in a year long effort to improve the management and security of LIFT's computer network and all its stored information.

  • Don Weber for his continued work to update the LIFT database even though he lives in another state now.

  • Sarah Ahr, Brigitta Able, Sam Guerra and Lynn Sawyer for fielding two Spelling Bee teams in support of the annual Adult Spelling Bee.

  • Joan Tibbets Hudson for securing multiple radio PSA's that resulted in a thousand plus phone calls to LIFT about classes.

  • And finally to Karen Guida who volunteered a total of 446 hours in 2008 including a successful voter registration drive at LIFT for unregistered adult learners.

NBC newsman and best selling author Tom Brokaw said "It's easy to make a buck. It's a lot tougher to make a difference.". Thank you for continuing to make a big difference at LIFT.

National Reading Month

Did you know that March is National Reading Month? Neither did I until I caught a news article this morning. I am one of those individuals who cannot begin her day until she reads the Dallas Morning News cover to cover and checks out on line news articles from several sources. So, in light of this information, how are you going to celebrate National Reading Month?

Reading has always been a part of my life, and I suspect reading is important to LIFT supporters - after all - if reading wasn't so important to us, why would we want to help other adults learn to read? I thought and thought about how to celebrate National Reading Month and then it hit me - LIFT celebrates reading not just in the month of March, but every day. Every milestone that our adult learners reach in their quest to become better readers is a cause for celebration. Doesn't matter if the achievement is being able to identify the letter "a" and the sound it makes or if one of our learners achieves his/her GED. Every step towards literacy is a celebration. LIFT applauds their achievements and our students know this. That is why 46% of LIFT learners complete their courses, compared to a national average of 10%.

So, I don't know about you, but I am not going to limit National Reading Month to March - I am going to join the more than 8,000 adults who learn to read for free at LIFT each year and celebrate literacy every day.