Editor’s Note: The N.C. Center for Nonprofits will present its annual Statewide Conference for North Carolina’s Nonprofit Sector on Sept. 19-20 at the Embassy Suites Hotel-Concord Convention Center.
By Jill Warren Lucas
Last year at this time, Linda Lytvinenko was trying to wrap up things at her Cape Fear Literacy Council (CFLC) office in Wilmington to attend the annual Statewide Conference for North Carolina’s Nonprofit Sector. She never imagined she’d return home with a Nonprofit Sector Stewardship Award, a signature honor provided by the N.C. Center for Nonprofits.
“It was a validation to the staff and the board – and our volunteers and students,” says Lytvinenko, executive director of the region’s only nonprofit focused solely on adult literacy. “We thought we were working hard and getting results, but having someone look at us from the outside and say so really was great.”
This year, Lytvinenko is leveraging the achievement to boost fundraising. CFLC recently launched a $150,000 capital campaign to expand instructional space by 75 percent. A key element is the 26th annual CFLC Spelling Bee on Sept. 19. Typically its most successful fundraiser, the event pits teams of community members, civic groups and business leaders against one another in a good-humored display of competitive linguistics.
The new facility, which will open next spring across the street from its main office on South 17th Street, will allow the organization to provide more free and confidential one-on-one tutoring to adult learners.
CFLC collaborates with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Cape Fear Community College and the Wilmington Housing Authority – as well as numerous local agencies, churches, senior centers and hundreds of volunteers – to seek out potential program participants.
“If you are an adult who struggles with literacy, you may be hesitant to admit that you need help,” Lytvinenko says. “Our relationships with local human services organizations help us to connect with adult learners, and in turn, we help to connect our clients with other local services.”
There is a new urgency to locate and assist adult learners in the community due to changes that will significantly affect the general education development (GED) certificate program. GED was sold to a for-profit company which will offer it as an online test only, increasing the challenge of earning a high school equivalency for those who are not computer savvy or fluent in English.
“They also are increasing the cost and changing the content,” she says. “That’s just one example of keying in to what’s going on in the world of adult education. We want to help those in the pipeline continue their work and complete their test and be prepared to switch next year if necessary.”
Those who do not complete their current GED work may find that they have to start over with an entirely different measurement tool next year, she says. North Carolina is among several states considering other options for high school equivalency testing. The outcome will not be known until results are made public from a future request for proposals.
“It may really change the landscape. So much of adult education programs is geared toward job readiness” as opposed to a standard high school curriculum, Lytvinenko says. “That’s really heightened and deepened since the economic recession, and I don’t see it changing any time soon.”
While CFLC is dedicated to helping adult learners earn their GED, many clients are more interested in developing skills that will enable them to live more independent lives. Lytvinenko recalls a student excitedly sharing with classmates that he was able to read signs by himself instead of relying on the clerk in the store.
“It may not sound like much, but it’s a big thing for our clients,” she says. “If you are a church person, instead of sitting and listening while others read, you can stand up and share yourself. You can engage in conversations with people about something you read.
“We’re all about transitions. Maybe it’s from one course or a test to an associate’s degree. Maybe it’s from no job to a job or a better job,” she adds. “The whole business of what we’re doing here is to remove a barrier from people thinking they don’t have opportunities, to make it possible for them to enjoy life better. When they see that doors are opening, there’s just no turning back.”