Katherine Freimund, the new executive director of Whatcom Literacy Council, offers a startling statistic for consideration by potential volunteers and financial supporters.
"One in six adults in Whatcom County is functionally illiterate in English," she said.
Freimund, formerly director of administration at Boys & Girls Clubs of Whatcom County, has extensive experience working with nonprofits. She graduated from the University of Chicago, earned a master's in public administration from Boston's Suffolk University and served with the Peace Corps in West Africa.
Question: What is the Literacy Council's mission?
Answer: We're a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides free services so adults 18 and older can learn to read and write English. Our learners come to us illiterate in English for a variety of reasons.
It's important to point out that being functionally illiterate in English does not mean a person is not intelligent. Some people can be very intelligent and occupationally successful, yet still be functionally illiterate.
Q: How many volunteers serve the council?
A: In 2012 we had 225 tutors. They helped learners reach 536 literacy goals (each learner has a unique background and goal). The council coordinated more than 11,000 volunteer hours toward breaking a cycle of generational illiteracy.
Q: How badly can young people be handicapped when their parents are illiterate?
A: Such youngsters are twice as likely to be functionally illiterate themselves. The most consistent indicator that children will be raised in poverty is whether they have a parent who does not have a high school diploma or a GED by age 25. When children see how their parents value literacy, they quickly learn to value literacy themselves. Thus, we don't just focus on individuals, we often focus on helping families.
Q: In addition to one-to-one tutoring, what programs do you offer?
A: We also offer free six-week, small-group English language courses. We are coordinating locations that use Rosetta Stone software. We work closely with Whatcom Community College and Bellingham Technical College as well as local school districts and many businesses.
Q: Are you always in need of volunteers?
A: Yes! Financial support is so vital. The recession has made our mission more difficult. Potential volunteers can go to our website (whatcomliteracy.org) to receive basic information about training. We encourage people to see the online tutorial and contact us if they're interested.
Q: What fundraisers do you hold?
A: We'll have our annual trivia bee on April 26 at Bellingham High School. We'll hold our "fun run" in June and we'll have a breakfast with Nancy Pearl (author of "Book Lust") in November.
Q: Did you grow up in a literate home?
A: My parents were both educators and I grew up in a very literate household. I lived within walking distance of the Boston Public Library and I would take out these huge stacks of books. I absolutely loved that library!
To donate or learn how to become a volunteer for Whatcom Literacy Council, call 360-647-3264 or see whatcomliteracy.org.
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.