“If plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters — 204 if you’re in Japan.”— Claire Cook
2020 has been a curious journey. Some days seem like a year; a week may feel like a moment.
A snapshot taken on March 1, 2020, would show our programs serving 992 learners with over 450 tutors on the ground throughout Washtenaw County, and on track to serve over 1800 learners last fiscal year. Another snapshot taken on March 13, 2020, would show that all stopped. The staff locked the office door, and we retreated to our separate homes with hastily gathered boxes of files and supplies. Our learners faced the same disorienting, ripsaw changes, but with one big difference. Low-literacy meant our learners were outside the bounds of information and knowledge.
Our charge was clear.
On March 15, 2020, we rolled out a re-branded website that serves as a virtual learning portal. We expanded health literacy programming to make sure the vulnerable populations we serve got actionable, accurate information about COVID-19. We set up online digital literacy programming and virtual office hours to quickly get both learners and tutors connected. And, we immediately ramped up our LIFT program for families who suddenly faced in-home “school” when Mom, Dad, or guardian was already academically deficit.
As of August, we were actively tutoring nearly 400 learners, remarkable in a normal summer. As school began, referrals ramped up rapidly. We have continued our nationally-recognized tutor training and on-going development online. We are the only agency in Washtenaw County dedicated to adult literacy needs, and the need is significant.
Now we face the next challenge: supporting our crucial work in the virtual environment. Our signature event, the fall benefit gala, has raised a gross annual average of $100,000 in each of the last ten years. This revenue is bedrock to our mission. Funds are raised from corporate support, auction and ticket sales, and individual gifts. Will this important event meet that standard as an online gala? We don’t know.
But, as with every other challenge Washtenaw Literacy has faced, I am looking COVID-19 in the (hopefully masked) face and saying, “Bring it.”
Are you with me?