Blue Ridge Literacy Council is proud to announce the start of our Voter Education class series, a new element to our U.S. Citizenship program. These nonpartisan classes will be offered in partnership with the League of Women Voters of Henderson County. The first class participants are graduates of BRLC’s U.S. Citizenship program and their eligible family members.
Volunteers from the Literacy Council and Caren Kessler, Voter Services Chair for the LWV of Henderson County, will offer classes via Zoom which include the following topics: the impact of one's vote on local, state and national elections; how to register to vote; how to request and return an absentee ballot; how to find information about candidates and issues, and how to vote during Early Voting and on Election Day.
Jan Lanier, BRLC Interim Executive Director, welcomed the new voters: “We are excited to offer you the tools to educate yourselves about electoral choices. Your new right to vote is a fundamental step in participating in our democracy. Your voice and vote count.”
The President of LWV of Henderson County, Rachel Poller, said,” I’m impressed with the ability of Henderson County organizations to collaborate. The League believes in empowering voters in a nonpartisan way. What could be better than educating new citizens in the voting process and helping them to become familiar with ways to learn about candidates and positions.”
BRLC's U.S. Citizenship program has successfully served over 200 adults seeking naturalization in the last ten years. Four adults from our program took their Oath of Citizenship in the last 2 months. The Literacy Council currently has 25 adults studying with citizenship tutors. Our dedicated volunteers work with individuals or small groups of adults to improve English language skills while preparing for the naturalization interview and exam. All materials are free to students.
One new citizen, a graduate of our program, said recently, "My life has definitely changed since becoming a citizen! It has given me such confidence. I finally feel like I belong and can call this country my home. I now have a voice in politics and am looking forward to being able to vote in upcoming elections. This gives me great pride. I also feel like I can be a role model for my friends who are aspiring to become citizens."
Whipp Johnson, one of our Citizenship tutors, said, "There is nothing better than to hear the excitement in the voices of students who have just passed the naturalization test. They work so hard, overcome so many obstacles, are so dedicated to the work of learning that I end each class more impressed with the determination and commitment of the students than I was at the beginning of the session. When they achieve this goal, well, it’s just great for them, their families, their community, and the nation."
The Blue Ridge Literacy Council Board elected three new Directors - Tracy Dyer, Daniel J (Danny) Hein and T Bradford (Brad) Henry - to three-year terms beginning in July.
Tracy Dyer has been a CPA and Certified Fraud Examiner at several firms. He was also a financial consultant for Nonprofit Pathways. Currently he, has a private practice in Hendersonville. He has a background in math education as well. Dyer is Treasurer of the Council on Aging Board and a member of the Chamber of Commerce. A native of upstate South Carolina, he and his wife Poppy enjoy hiking and biking with their three sons and being involved with them in Boy Scouts.
Danny Hein was football team captain at Brevard High School and Company Commander at the Citadel. He served eleven years in the US Army attaining the rank of Major. He earned the Expert Field Medical Badge. After active duty he pursued a career in orthopedic health care management and obtained an MBA. Currently he is Administrative Director of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at Pardee UNC Health Care. Hein chairs the Transylvania County Parks and Recreation Board and is a member of the Mountain Area Workforce Development Board.
Brad Henry is an Associate at Strauss Attorneys. His special interest is charitable estate planning. During his career journey he earned a master’s degree from Duke Divinity School and was a fourth-grade teacher. Growing up in Florida, he summered in family retreats at Lake Summit and Grandfather Mountain. He and his wife Ashley have five children whom she, a fellow law school graduate, home-schools. Henry is an active layman at Immaculata Catholic Church.
Elected officers were Sharon Tirrell, President; Nancy Keswani, President Elect and Board Development Chair; Milton Butterworth, Secretary, and Betsy Kelsey, Treasurer. Diane Skillman, Resource Development Chair was appointed to the Executive Committee.
Blue Ridge Literacy Council recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. Its mission has expanded beyond English language tutoring for adults and citizenship education, to include family literacy and parent education for child school success, supplemental education for at risk youth and digital literacy for older adults. The agency also began serving residents of Transylvania County in addition to Henderson County.
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.