THE MIDLANDS LITERACY INITIATIVE AND ITS PARTNERS
In 1988, a group of residents formed the Eau Claire Community Council (ECCC) to represent the thirty-eight neighborhoods in the North Columbia area. Now a nonprofit organization, the ECCC connects the neighborhoods with city government agencies and provides a variety of programs to improve services in the community and to create economic opportunities. One of the ECCC's major efforts is an adult basic education program for adults in the area, most of whom are African American. The program also serves learners with learning disabilities, single mothers, teen parents, and immigrants.
The Eau Claire Family Literacy Program was started in 2001 by an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer who performed a needs assessment in the community and identified low literacy levels as a major issue. With the help of the United Way and MLI, Fronnie Harris designed the current program from scratch, creating a mission statement, vision, and strategic plan along the way. Now the program director, she recruits learners, does outreach to the community, and performs daily operational duties.
Without partnerships, especially with the MLI and Richland One, the literacy component of the program would not exist. Finding qualified and certified adult education instructors was a big challenge in the beginning, because the program did not have the resources to pay them. The MLI solved this problem by agreeing to pay instructors' salaries. The program now has one full-time paid instructor position, which is split between two teachers, and recruits volunteers to assist in the classes. Richland One helped to shape the literacy course, and the district provides the curriculum, materials, and tests.
The program offers a basic skills reading and writing course, which takes place twice a week for eleven weeks and provides adults with literacy instruction at the pre-GED level. The course and all materials are free to learners. The program also works with students at Willow Gray, a local military school for boys that grants GED diplomas. Willow Gray students needing supplemental instruction to prepare for the GED test can get this help through the ECCC basic reading and writing class. Twenty-five Willow Gray students participate annually.