#ActivismInApril: The Durham Literacy Center

#ActivismInApril: The Durham Literacy Center

The Durham Literacy Center uses volunteers to help adults learn to read, students get their GEDs and people of all ages learn more about computers.

Above, photo courtesy of the Durham Literacy Center.

Are you looking for a place to volunteer? The Durham Literacy Center might be that spot.

The center has four main programs:

adult literacy for students who are usually from the United States and speak English, but did not build strong literacy skills when they were children,

adult English for speakers of other languages (ESOL),

youth GED for students 16 and older who have dropped out of high school and want to get their high school diploma equivalent, and

computer literacy, which is available to anyone, but usually consists of students who want to learn how to use computers to improve job prospects.

Durham Literacy Center

Photo courtesy of the Durham Literacy Center.

“Anyone that comes to our center is going to see people from all walks of life working together for a common goal. It’s a really empowering, positive place,” said Lizzie Ellis-Furlong, executive director of the Durham Literacy Center.

Program staff and volunteers also put in a lot of time into the center. Most program staff work well over the typical 40-hour work week. But that time investment means staff and volunteers develop a more genuine involvement in their students’ literacy skills.

“What we do is very relational,” Ellis-Furlong said. “It’s a very connected, personal experience to be involved in the Durham Literacy Center.”

Ellis-Furlong has served as director of the center since 2014. While the goals of the program have stayed the same throughout the years, she said, the need for the program has increased.

According to Ellis-Furlong, poverty has increased during the last couple of years in Durham. There is a correlation between poverty and low literacy. Previously, there was more public and/or government funding for nonprofit organizations. Now, that funding has been significantly reduced. That’s where volunteers come in.

Student volunteers are a big help to the center. Most student volunteers come from Duke University because the center is near Duke’s campus. Volunteers serve the center in various capacities, but do best with drop-in opportunities like youth programs or computer classes. Students also do research projects on the center, and their findings can help the center with grant writing.

All volunteers must be trained. Teaching English one-on-one requires a 12-hour, two-day training. Other programs require a two-hour mini training. Trainings at least somewhat cover the systemic issues that their students may be facing that contribute to literacy challenges — and program staff are always there to help support volunteers.

“Staff are always observing and reframing to make sure that people are working with our students in a very empowering way versus a deficit base,” Ellis-Furlong said.

You can learn more about the volunteer opportunities at the center here.

Morgan Howard
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