Diane Schwab gets a big grin on her face when people ask her what she’s up to these days, one year after retiring from her work as a reading specialist with the Washington School District.
“I’m a matchmaker,” she says proudly. “I match up volunteer tutors with adult reading students.”
Back in March, Schwab was hired as the literacy coordinator for the Y Community Literary Council for Four Rivers Area Family YMCA in Washington.
Already Schwab has five tutors paired with five adult reading students who are meeting on a weekly basis to improve their reading. And many more tutors are in the process of completing their training so they can be matched with reading students, she said.
It was just one year ago that the Y Community Literacy Council was formed, a new name for an organization many people knew as the Literacy Council of East Central Missouri.
In 2010, Four Rivers Area YMCA, which offers a literacy program for children birth to age 5 who are served by the Franklin County Health Department, teamed up with the Literacy Council to pool their resources and make literacy efforts here even stronger. Then last year they took that partnership a step further, uniting efforts into one committee as the Four Rivers YMCA Literacy Committee.
“This will allow us to expand literacy services and activities to help address additional community needs to make an even greater impact in the community,” Debbie Toedebusch, executive director at the Y, told The Missourian last fall. “With our combined resources we will be able to support and strengthen area organizations that provide literacy services in our area.”
The council includes representatives from literacy efforts offered around Franklin County — Dawn Kitchell, chair, is the educational services director at The Missourian and co-coordinator of the newspaper’s Book Buzz youth literacy program; Toedebusch is involved with the Y’s Beginning Babies With Books program; Patty Kellmann is a retired fourth-grade teacher; Nell Redhage is director of the Washington Public Library; Gretchen AuBuchon Pettet is executive director of work force development at East Central College; Carrie Rufkahr is a member of the Washington Rotary Club literacy committee; Anne Schneider is the Four Rivers YMCA programs director; and Jeff Siebert is with TEMCO, a sheltered workshop in Marthasville.
Much progress has been made on the local literacy front since the council was organized last year, said Kitchell, noting Schwab has made great strides in the few months since accepting the job as coordinator.
‘I Know How to Teach Reading’
Schwab hadn’t been retired that long when she realized how much she missed being around other people on a daily basis. So when she came across information about the new Y Literacy Council, she thought volunteering as a tutor would be a good fit for her.
When she saw that the new organization was hiring a part-time coordinator, she realized that might be even more ideal.
“I know how to teach reading, and I have a lot of contacts,” Schwab remarked.
As a reading specialist for 35 years, Schwab taught remedial reading to students who needed to improve their skills. In her last five years with the district, Schwab served as literacy coordinator, working with teachers and modeling how to be an effective reading coach.
Now as coordinator of the Y’s Community Literacy Council where she’s working with both adult tutors and adult reading students, Schwab feels like she’s come full circle.
Literacy Not Limited to Reading
Schwab said the council is taking a broad approach to solving local literacy issues. Reading students can include people who need help improving their ability to speak English or to improve their reading comprehension, as well as people who are beginning readers.
“It’s not just about reading,” she said. “It has to do with listening and speaking too.”
Reading students can be adults who need help in preparing for their G.E.D. instruction, adults who need help with job skills or life skills.
Schwab has met with staff at both Loving Hearts Outreach and Crider Center to recruit potential reading students and raise awareness of the program.
Schwab has called on many of her education contacts to recruit tutors and had a good response. Many are retired teachers and people who have worked in education in some respect.
She currently has five trained tutors working with reading students; last week she held a tutor training session for six new tutors who wanted to learn about what was involved in volunteering; plus, she has eight more people who want to take a tutor training session this fall.
Training sessions will be held Friday, Sept. 21, and Friday, Jan. 25, both at the East Central College facility in Washington.
Schwab is quick to note that attending a tutor training session in no way commits a person to becoming a volunteer. It’s the first step for people who have an interest to see if they think the work will be a good fit for them.
“Some have decided, ‘It’s not for me,’ ” she admits.
The training session runs about six hours and there is some additional training done online.
All potential tutors also must submit to a background check.
Tutors are needed from all over the Y’s service area, which includes both Franklin and Gasconade counties, as well as the Washington School District boundaries.
Tutors and reading students are matched based on preferences of location, time and day availability, said Schwab. They meet to work one-on-one in a public facility, such as the Y or their local library.
More Strides Forward
The Y Community Literacy Council recently received a $3,000 grant from Dollar General. It is the second grant the retailer has awarded to the council, said Kitchell.
The first grant for $2,500 was used to give scholarships to fund GED testing fees for 46 people. The current grant will continue that effort and also help purchase tutoring materials.
The council also recently joined ProLiteracy America, a national nonprofit organization that provides materials and resources, such as a tracking software that will be used by the council to log tutoring hours and student progress.
And the Y Community Literacy Council is now included on a national literary directory that will help people find their way to the program, whether they are volunteers wanting to help or reading students looking for support.
The Beginning Babies With Books program, which was launched by the Four Rivers Y five years ago, continues to provide books to children attending the Franklin County Health Department. To date they have given out 13,000 books, said Toedebusch, noting a recent $500 grant from Ameren was used to purchase more books.
Volunteers for the program also visit the health department three days a week to read books to children in the waiting area, she added.
Volunteers also now spend time reading in the Y’s children’s play area on Mondays.
Adult Spelling Bee
To help raise funds for the Y Community Literacy Council, the board is planning an adult spelling bee for Saturday, Aug. 25, from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Y in Washington. Only adults 21 and older will be allowed.
The event will consist of teams of four working together to spell words by writing them out on a sheet of paper.
Words will be selected from the Scripts Spelling Bee list and will include beginner, intermediate and advanced words.
The cost will be $10 per person. Teams will be allowed to bring in their own food and drinks, although some light snacks and drinks will be provided.
Watch The Missourian for more details as the event gets closer.
For more information on the Y’s Community Literacy Council, to find out about being a volunteer tutor or an adult reading student, people can contact Schwab through the Y at 636-239-5704.
Most likely, callers will need to leave a message and she will return their call.