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Imagination Library Gains $5 Million in State Funds

Governor Mike DeWine signed a new State of Ohio budget into law last week, which includes funds to support The Dolly Parton Imagination Library.

The budget grants $5 million to support Imagination Library across the state. The funds will cover a portion of the cost of books and mailing. This support helps pave the path for every child under the age of five in Cuyahoga County and the State of Ohio to receive a brand new, age-appropriate book in the mail every month. The program is free for families.

Bob Paponetti, CEO and President of The Literacy Cooperative, spoke with WTAM’s Mike Snyder and Bill Wills Wednesday morning about this important step toward increasing early literacy and promoting a love of reading.

“It’s clear that this is changing what’s happening in the home,” Paponetti said. “Families are reading more together as a result of getting these books.

This is the first time Ohio’s Imagination Library program has had provisions in the state budget.

Listen to the full interview below and sign up for the program here.

Creative Writing Workshops Benefit Literacy

 On September 23, 2013, I sat down at the desk in my childhood bedroom with a pencil and a blue plaid notebook and began writing what I could only assume would become the next great American novel. I tailored the story to my sister’s interests so I wouldn’t lose my only audience member and I (am ashamed to say) stole half of my plot from a James Patterson novel. By the time my work progressed to a second notebook, it was chock-full of completely autonomous teenagers, the governmental authorities trying to take them down, and countless grammatical errors. Yikes!

While this may have been the piece that ignited my passion for creative writing, I can say with confidence that my prose has gained much more originality and potential in the past five years. In fact, this March I presented the narrative approach of my (new) unpublished manuscript at the Mid-East Honors Association Conference in Columbus, Ohio.

One of the main things that helped me to become a better writer was enrolling in creative writing workshops. The workshops not only shaped a foundation for my writing skills, but allowed me to discover the benefit of having others critique my work. In fact, I loved the class so much that I decided to make creative writing my major! Now, I’m a junior at Baldwin Wallace University and want to help others experience the extensive joys and benefits of writing.

For that reason, I founded a small startup, Ink Above All, an organization that offers creative writing workshops to both adults and high school students living in North East Ohio. The workshops are taking place at Avon Oaks Country Club in Avon, and run for two weeks each. I hope these workshops will serve to improve not only the English and writing skills of those enrolled, but will provide them with a safe environment for creative collaboration. I want everyone involved to feel liberated to express themselves, take creative risks, and communicate freely, because no matter who you are or where you’re from, you have a story to tell.

What you’re passionate about is what makes you unique, and there’s a story in that just waiting to be told. If you’ve never thought about putting pen to paper (or hands to keyboard) and telling your story, now might just be the time. Even if you don’t want to tell your story, there are so many things waiting to be written about. Just think, from activism and political movements to your dreams and made up fantasies, there’s no limit on what you could create.

So, why should you get out and write something? Because creative writing has been shown to positively impact your brain in more ways than one! Writing creatively not only affects your ability to write, but it improves your memory, increases your intelligence, and furthers your vocabulary.  Additionally, a workshop allows you to “develop your creative thinking and problem-solving abilities by analyzing different writing styles and working on your own projects.” This is a valuable skill set for any career.

Furthermore, the workshop environment gives you an opportunity to practice giving and receiving constructive criticism. This translates into improved critical thinking skills and an ability to evaluate the work of your colleagues. You will learn to organize ideas, write with clarity, and think logically to organize a story. Moreover, being around a diverse group of personalities will make you well-rounded as an individual. As a workshop participant, you will gain confidence, lasting friends, and a passion for writing.

The environment that you chose to write in makes a difference, which is why I’ve decided to hold Ink Above All’s workshops in a beautiful conference room overlooking an extensive golf course. Additionally, I set aside some designated workshop days for participants to go outside and experience writing in nature. The practice of spending time outdoors is fleeting in our technology-fueled culture despite the fact that it has been associated with all kinds of benefits ranging from mental clarity to increased creativity.

Workshops offer writers a new environment in which to learn and develop further social intelligence. Social intelligence is made up of two separate elements, social awareness, and social facility. Social awareness “refers to qualities including empathy, attunement to others and social cognition,” whereas social facility refers to “how we use our internal social awareness to interact with individuals and groups successfully, such as self-presentation, influence and concern for others.” Both of these skill sets are considered a long-term benefit of extracurricular summer activities, such as writing workshops, and will follow students for the rest of their lives, making a huge impact on future careers.

If you’re interested, I encourage you to grab a pen and sign up for a workshop, because you have a story, and the world is waiting to hear it.

www.InkAboveAll.org

https://www.facebook.com/InkAboveAll/

#2GenCLE: Bringing a 2Gen approach to literacy to Northeast Ohio

While the 2 Generation approach to literacy has gained positive traction in recent years, many as of yet have not been introduced to this concept that is successfully changing the way families are served in communities across the nation. On Friday, May 11th, The Literacy Cooperative will be bringing 2Gen to Cleveland by hosting the 2Gen Literacy Summit, where we will explore family learning and service learning models first introduced at our Read Across America Luncheon on March 7th by Sharon Darling, President and Founder of the National Center for Families Learning.

So what does 2Gen mean exactly? 2Gen aligns and coordinates services for children, parents, and caregivers. Because research continually shows that a parent’s education level dramatically affects the educational success of their children, 2Gen understands that early childhood and adult education are intertwined in the life of a family, and therefore need to be addressed simultaneously in a matter that includes the family as a whole. While traditional program models have generally treated early learning and adult literacy as separate issues, they have provided a somewhat fragmented solution to literacy improvement for families. The 2Gen approach considers the needs of adults and children in their lives together. It designs and delivers services that support improved economic, educational, health, and social outcomes on an integrated, inter-generational pathway.

According to the National Center for Families Learning, 2Gen empowers families to work, play, read, and learn together and as individuals. Parents develop simultaneously as learners, educational role models, and teachers of their children, while children experience positive gains in language, literacy, emotional, and cognitive development. In other words, when families learn together, learning becomes a shared activity that builds excitement around education in both children and parents. As parents gain literacy skills, their confidence in their own skills grows and becomes evident to their children. Likewise, as children watch their parents engage in education, they are inspired to do the same and to view learning as a positive activity that they can share with the adults in their lives. As a result, literacy becomes not only beneficial to each individual, but a bonding experience for families with lasting effects.

Many organizations nationally are currently providing learning programs for the entire family. An example of this might be a program where adults work on obtaining their GED while their children participate in age-appropriate learning activities in the same location, or an event where adults and children work on learning skills together. A model such as this eliminates the worry over childcare for adult learners who previously experienced this as a barrier to continuing education. It also provides added benefits to children as their parents learn skills to improve the economic well-being of the family. According to the National Center for Families Learning, there are a few key components to a 2Gen family literacy service. These include:

  • Interactive literacy activities between parents and children
  • Training for parents regarding how to be the primary teacher for their children and full partners in the education of their children
  • Parent literacy training that leads to economic self-sufficiency
  • Age-appropriate education to prepare children for success in school and life experiences

The Literacy Cooperative is committed to spreading the 2Gen approach throughout Greater Cleveland and Northeast Ohio, and invites you and your organization to participate in a day of discussion that will introduce the key components of a 2Gen approach and showcase local organizations that are integrating 2Gen into their programs. We will build connections, and solicit input for a 2Gen Call to Action. We hope you can join us for this exciting event that will feature Dr. Jeri Levesque of the Center of Effort LLC as the keynote speaker. Dr. Levesque evaluates family learning programs in Detroit and Flint Michigan, Louisville, Kentucky, and Kansas City, Missouri. We will feature Lynn McGregor of the National Center for Families Learning as our lunchtime speaker. Lynn was one of the key planners of the 2Gen work that started in Detroit, Michigan. Our expert panels include representatives from Invest in Children, Ohio Means Jobs Cleveland-Cuyahoga Count, The Centers, University Settlement, Cuyahoga County Public Library, Family Connections, Slavic Village P-16, Cleveland Metropolitan School District, and Literacy in the HOOD. You will have an opportunity to share your thoughts, ideas, and challenges in a facilitated breakout session that will be included in a community call to action. Join the discussion by registering here!

Financial Literacy in the Workforce by Teresha Sims, a NEO SkillCORP Member

I made a life changing decision in June 2017 to leave a job that I depended on as my safety net for 25 years to embark on an unknown journey. Passionate about workforce development, I interviewed for the service position with AmeriCorps NEO SKILLS CORP, an organization that provides services to low-income communities in the areas of Workforce Development and Financial Literacy. I had been interested in finding a way into this field for some time and I accepted the position within a matter of hours. My host site is The Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland (CEOGC) and I teach inside of their existing Customer Service Certification Program, a six week program. I teach financial literacy five of the six weeks for a total of fifteen 1 hour workshops, and also teach in a four day Job Readiness Program, where I teach one day for 1 1/2 hours.

After attending training with my AmeriCorps manager, it was now time to perform my duties as a Financial Literacy Facilitator. I now had to determine how to incorporate the curriculum provided by my host site, AmeriCorps, with my own developed curriculum (approved by the host site manager and within the scope of AmeriCorps guidelines). My first day to teach class was the day after hire. What I didn’t know was this class was getting ready to graduate. That meant I had to teach 15 workshops in three days, give unit tests, and put together my presentations. I started the planning process with both curriculum, a few documents, the names and contact numbers of my other AmeriCorps members and AmeriCorps Manager, and some information from the past AmeriCorps member who held my current position the prior year.

Today, I have systems that I have developed, resources, researched material, sample folders for each workshop that mirror what I give to my class, a workshop schedule (my guide), workshop folders for each workshop that include my handouts and additional teaching points, 15 workshop/session curriculum, employees who want the information, people who receive individual coaching, and over 50 people who I have touched in some way with the information I have provided since September 2017. Beginning June 2018, I will start teaching Financial Literacy in the M.O.V.E.R.S (Millennial’s Occupation Vocation Education Resource Services) Program for young adults 18-24. This presents another challenge: “How do you get young adults to value financial information and understand why it should be important to them NOW?”

I have developed a passion for providing financial information to the community of people I service every day. I get so inspired when I see and hear how they use the information to improve their lives one step at a time. This proves the field of Financial Literacy is important to the lives of the people we can reach. I believe the field of Adult Financial Literacy is extremely important yet undervalued by most. The knowledge provided in a good financial literacy program can be life changing for many people. In my first workshop, I have my students start with the end in mind. For many of the students, this is the first time they have been asked to “Dream.” Some are reluctant, some are baffled, some do not know where to start, some are eager, and some think the activity is a waste of time (you can’t win them all). When I see the look on their faces as I present the material, I realize that I am empowering them, inspiring them, and giving many of them the hope that was lost or hope that never existed before in their lives. By the end of my first three workshops, most of my students know I believe in them. I realize, as the facilitator, I have to encourage many of them to believe in themselves.

As financial literacy professionals we must be able to reach people where they are in life if we want to truly change how people view the field of Financial Literacy and the professional within the field. For this reason, it is a must to find facilitators who are passionate about working with the population they service and truly seek to understand their issues and experiences.

A good Financial Literacy program should:

  1. Help people understand their current situation.
  2. Change the mindset that lead to their existing financial problems and behaviors.
  3. Provide financial knowledge to individuals that can be passed down to their children, grandchildren, etc.
  4. Give participants the platform to discuss various financial topics, share experiences, and learn new information.
  5. Help individuals determine their own financial destination and develop their own roadmap to reach that destination with the facilitator’s assistance.
  6. Introduce young adults to the knowledge early enough in life, so they can develop the mindset and ability to make informed decisions that will help them reach their financial destination. For some, this might be their first exposure to the financial information discussed in class.
  7. Show the more senior adults that it is not too late to think about their finances. A good program should also help them use the financial knowledge provided in the workshop to create a realistic financial destination for their lives.
  8. Offer some form of individual coaching opportunity if possible. For some people, finances are very personal.
  9. Encourage students to take ACTION.

I want to invite you to share your feelings about the nine reasons I highlighted above. I invite financial literacy facilitators to add to this list. This list demonstrates the true value behind a good Adult Financial Literacy Program.

After six months in the field, I can also identify a few struggles I have noticed and struggles that have been expressed to me during some of my workshops. The struggles are different for different age groups.

There are the 12 struggles I would like to highlight:

  1. Many professionals who service our student population fail to understand how the financial literacy field impacts their work with individuals and families.
  2. There is a vast need for more funding allocations/grants toward the expansion of financial literacy for people of all socioeconomic levels and all communities. There is a misconception that only low-income people are financially illiterate.
  3. There exists a great need to help people understand how having financial information and implementing what they learn into their lives can lead to better financial outcomes for themselves and their families. For some people, this translates into helping them build self-efficacy.
  4. One struggle facilitators might face is getting people to focus on implementing these practices if they do not have a job or income coming into the household.
  5. For senior adults, the struggle is getting them to first understand that it is not too late to do something to improve a bad financial situation. The second struggle is to get them to believe the information provided is still relevant to their lives.
  6. For young adults, the struggle is helping them to understand why they need to learn this information. Many young adults live for today. The need for future planning is a challenge for some young adults to grasp.
  7. Getting people to complete programs is a major struggle when they desperately need income to feed and provide a roof over their families’ heads. These people want work not programs.
  8. We often start much too late. Financial Education (as l like to call it) should begin as early as pre- school.
  9. We need to change the perception that only low-income people need financial literacy. I have many employees asking for the information for themselves. I had a doctor who felt he could use some financial education.
  10. We need to have facilitators who can act as a Peer-Coach. This person understands the experiences (that sometimes hold them back), struggles, and barriers that students face as they try to follow our recommendations. Some people need more than just the information if we want to see them succeed.
  11. Facilitators need accessibility to recommended local resources for issues beyond our scope of knowledge to share with the people we service, such as bankruptcy, consolidation, landlord/tenant housing assistance, tax advice, etc. All of these issues impact finances and a person’s ability to focus on the financial information we provide.
  12. It is often a struggle to get people to sign-up for a financial literacy only workshop or program. I am not an advocate for providing incentives to people to entice them to sign-up or complete a workshop or program that will benefit them at the end.

I believe we can work together to bring about meaningful solutions to these struggles. Here are some possible solutions I believe would make a great impact:

  1. Bring awareness to all stakeholders.
  2. The value of financial literacy needs to be highlighted to all professionals working with the people we service and financial literacy professionals need to be part of the conversation or preferably have a seat at the table. Some professionals may not be aware that at the root of their problem with the people they service is finances. It our job to make the connection.
  3. Financial literacy needs to be offered as part of an existing skills-based workforce program that lead to real job placement. Let people know that financial literacy is part of the program.
  4. Encourage employers to offer their employees financial literacy workshops. Many employees approach me for the information to use in their personal lives.
  5. Provide funding (grants) for communities and/or financial literacy professionals to develop workshops or special events in communities where financial literacy workshops do not exist inside existing community programs.
  6. Encourage facilitators to learn about and understand the lives of the people they service. Cultural competency is important when you are trying to direct people.
  7. Find people who are passionate about working with certain student populations and helping them grow economically. It helps tremendously when a facilitator believes in people even if they do not believe in themselves.
  8. Provide professional development opportunities for financial literacy facilitators that will help us to better serve the people we facilitate. There are many certifications we can take advantage of to increase our knowledge on the topics we teach in our programs. We need to connect with some of the associations that provide these certifications.
  9. Consider a contextualized curriculum for financial literacy when possible. Being able to make the connection for students will help them to see the value of a good financial education.

To learn more about NEO Skill Corps, click here

Adult Education and Family Literacy Week – Agustin’s Story

(This week is Adult Education and Family Literacy Week. It is a week to highlight the impact and importance of adult literacy not only on the students but on their families as well. Below is an inspiring story of one adult education student from the Tri-C Aspire program.)

Agustin Torres is a former Aspire (Tri-C GED® preparation class) student who received his Official GED® diploma in 2011.  He is enrolled in the  Tri-C Mandel Scholars Academy and will graduate in spring 2018.  He will transfer to Case Western Reserve in the fall to complete his Bachelor’s degree in Humanities.

His journey to this point in his life started when his probation officer referred him to Tri-C Aspire for GED® Preparation Classes.  He attended Mr. Elliot Huff’s (An Aspire instructor) class at U.S. District Courthouse.  Although his friends and family told him that education was a waste of time, he continued to work toward his goal.  His dedication and efforts paid off because Agustin was the first student to pass the Official GED® test from the U.S. District Court House class.  After he passed the Official GED® Test, he worked part time for the Aspire program.  Unfortunately, because of family illness, he moved back to Mexico for a year and a half.

When he returned Cleveland, he knew he wanted to accomplish more in life.  He contacted Mr. Huff to ask for advice.  Mr. Huff told him that without education you will not get far in life and encouraged him enroll at Tri-C.  Agustin says that those words affected him and he decided to enroll.  He started in the ESL program at Tri-C, and then college courses.  After trying different courses and programs, he applied for the Mandel Scholars Academy.  He was accepted into the academy and loves it.

Agustin was able to accomplish his goals thanks to wonderful mentors like Mr. Elliot Huff.  Additionally, the Tri-C TRIO program ( A program that identifies students who show potential for success and provides encouragement, support, and assistance) helped him very much.  His advice to students is “Do not give up. It doesn’t matter if it is million times, but keep trying”.

He plans are continue his studies, write a book and be a voice for the less fortunate.

Learn more about Tri-C’s Aspire program here. Also be sure to keep up with Tri-C on their Twitter and Facebook pages.