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Blue Ridge Literacy Council joins our national literacy organization, ProLiteracy, in the following statement:   “We believe not only in the right to education but also equal opportunities, liberties, and protection under the law.  We stand in solidarity against bigotry, racism and hatred.”

Our mission at BRLC is to transform lives by cultivating literacy skills that promote economic and social success.  Our daily work is to break down systemic and individual barriers to education through respectful partnership with adult learners and their families, no matter their race or culture.

The majority of the adult learners and youth we accompany experience physical or emotional trauma daily, whether from an inability to read, not having enough to eat, fear of prejudice in the community, or now, fear of losing a low-income job or facing infection in an important job in essential industries.   

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  At BRLC, the light and love we bring to our whole community is to make a bridge between those who have had the privilege of education and those who haven’t yet.  We build relationships across race, culture, and privilege, and we see that as the foundation for a healthy and just community. 

Blue Ridge Literacy Council has received a $5,100 grant from United Way and Community Foundation’s Henderson County COVID-19 Response Fund that will help provide remote support for their Family Literacy Program. The generous grant is being used to purchase activity kits and subscriptions to a family activity magazine that will be distributed to the Literacy Council’s families with young children. A portion of the grant is also being used to hire staff that is helping facilitate the Family Literacy program.

“We are very grateful for United Way of Henderson County and Community Foundation of Henderson County for recognizing the importance of creative family engagement measures during these unforeseen times,” says Literacy Council Interim Executive Director Jan Lanier.

The Literacy Council is thankful to be able to hire Guadalupe Aguilar Gaona who will help facilitate the Family Literacy Program. Guadalupe has been serving as an intern with the Council since October of 2019. She attends Innovative High School and is enrolled in Early College classes in Blue Ridge Community College’s Early Childhood Education Department. When social distancing ended the Literacy Council’s school-based Family Literacy program in March, Guadalupe began supporting Literacy Council families by helping parents connect to the technology needed for their children’s classes and the parents’ own English Language classes. She has also been producing a series of bilingual videos for families which are published on YouTube and BRLC’s Facebook page. The videos are trauma-informed and provide guidance for parents on how to discuss COVID-19, ease fear and anxiety, as well as engage in fun family activities while staying at home.

“The Family Literacy Program is here to help families whenever they need it, and it’s always fun being involved in the activities the program has brought to life,” shared Guadalupe. “The videos have been one of the ways we have been able to interact with the parents and children and it’s always great hearing the feedback we get when they are uploaded.”

Autumn Weil, Executive Director of Blue Ridge Literacy Council for the past five years, has been named Executive Director at International House in Charlotte, a much larger organization with a similar mission.

Her last day at the Literacy Council in Hendersonville is May 29.

“We are excited for Autumn as she moves forward in her career,” said Board President Keith Johnson, “but we’re feeling the loss for our organization. Autumn has developed strong leadership skills and helped us grow significantly during her time here. She was very committed to our mission. We will miss her.”

Weil also serves as the president of the Western North Carolina chapter of the Association of Professional Fundraisers and is the funded agencies’ representative on the United Way Board.

For most of its 30 years the Blue Ridge Literacy Council served adults in Henderson County with programs including English as a second language, basic literacy for native speakers with educational deficits and citizenship classes.

During Weil’s tenure the Literacy Council expanded its mission and built collaborations with other organizations. The Board adopted a new mission statement that supports a broader view of literacy than language acquisition: “We transform lives by cultivating literacy skills that promote economic and social success.”

“A stronger community because literacy is highly valued” expresses a new vision.

A family literacy program designed to help Latino preschoolers be kindergarten ready was established and is positioned for growth through a partnership with Henderson County Public Schools. Senior literacy programs featuring Medicare workshops and digital literacy classes were launched in partnership with Council on Aging and Henderson County Public Library. An afterschool program to help at risk youth referred by the court is a partnership with the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council.

Last year the Blue Ridge Literacy Council’s service area was extended to Transylvania County, which lacked a literacy program.

Jan Lanier, currently Program Manager, was appointed Interim Executive Director for 90 days beginning June 1.

“Jan has worked closely with Autumn for four years and was instrumental in organizing the family literacy program, which she supervises,” said Johnson. “She has a strong professional background in literacy programming. We are grateful to her for accepting additional responsibilities.”

A search committee is accepting applications for the Executive Director position until June 5. The job description and details are available here.

One of our most important goals as an organization is to facilitate improvement in our students’ employability skills. Some of our students come to us with very specific work-related goals. Teresita, for example, is a registered nurse in Costa Rica, and she wants to continue that career as she makes her life in the United States. When she came to us looking for a tutor, we talked about this goal. We were able to find a tutor who retired from nursing and was happy to work with Teresita using health-related texts. Please click here to watch a brief and inspiring video from Sheila and Teresita.

Maria de Lourdes and her daughter, Geraldina, participated in Blue Ridge Literacy Council’s September 2018 Family Literacy class. The following paragraphs are excerpts from her evaluation of the class:

The most informative thing we’ve learned in our Family Literacy classes was to read daily with our children and to sing to them. The information about healthy food for children was new to me. I learned about resources available in the community that can help my family. There are places I didn’t know about. I am going to be better prepared for the time when my child enters school.

My daughter is more social with the other children and less timid now that she has participated in the class. She has started asking me to read to her during the day. She plays more with books and pretends to be reading. The children are very well cared for and they have learned a lot in this class.

I would like the class to last longer. I would like to attend an English class, but I can’t now because I don’t have anyone to watch my daughter.

Additionally, Maria de Lourdes reported that she feels she can more effectively make plans for her family’s goals. She feels more prepared to teach her child the basic skills needed for her to enter kindergarten, like counting and learning colors and letters. She understands more about what the school will expect from her daughter, and she feels more confident in being able to advocate for her daughter when she enters school.