Adrienne Miller and Michele Hawes of the Loudoun Literacy Council in Leesburg, sit on the floor in their office to stuff books and materials into plastic bags. This month's book pack includes the children's book "Clap Your Hands," activity sheets and a parent's newsletter, in English and Spanish.
The mission of the Loudoun Literacy Council is to change lives through learning by promoting strong literacy skills and fostering life-long learning, Hawes said. The organization has enough books to share with the community, but their funds are low.
In an effort to continue running, the Council's board is applying for grants. "We have four grant applications out right now that we are waiting on," Hawes said. "And the board is exploring various other ways to fund us."
THE LOUDOUN LITERACY Council works with six Loudoun County schools' Head Start programs, including Sterling Elementary School, Sugarland Elementary School and Dominion High School. Hawes, Miller and volunteers visit each classroom once a week. The Council also hosts family book parties four times a year. Local families come to eat dinner, listen to a guest reader and participate in arts and crafts. At the last party, families built their own desserts. "Everyone took a home a new or gently used book," Hawes said.
The Council believes it is important for families to read together. Their book packs, parties and projects make reading fun for the family.
"We try to provide a literacy-rich environment, so the whole family reads together," Miller said. "The single most important thing a parent can do to ensure future success in school for their child is to read aloud with them at least 20 minutes a day, starting as early as 4 weeks old."
In addition to the family literacy program, the Council offers an adult literacy program, funded by the Virginia State Department of Education. The Council's Kathy Fetzer said the program includes basic literacy, or reading, writing and math, English for Speakers of Other Languages or ESOL, and health and civics literacy.
"Literacy means the ability to read and write at a fourth-grade level," Fetzer said. "The ability to read a medicine prescription label, complete a job application, read aloud to a child."
The adult program has served more than 2,000 people and trained more than 600 volunteers in its 25 years of service.
THE COUNCIL'S FUNDS are low, but the small staff continues to reach out to the community. Their new fall program at Loudoun Emergency Homeless Shelter has been a success. Volunteers visit the shelter once a week.
"Everyone picks a book to keep," Hawes said. "The kids and parents love it. They spend so much time looking at all the choices. We would like to expand to other shelters, but we do not have enough volunteers. We have enough books, but not enough volunteers."
Community members have reached out to the Council. "One group donated funds they collected at a baby shower in the name of the mom-to-be," Miller said.
The Council is applying for grants, but they need money for rent, as well as other programs.
"Most of the grants are for specific programs, like Head Start. That is the problem now," Hawes said. "We need money that is not restricted for any specific thing."
It is difficult to fund the adult program as well. "Everybody loves to buy books for children," Fetzer said. "People are less likely to feel compassion, to donate to the adult literacy program."
The Council does as much as it can with its small, part-time staff. "We stretch staff time as much as possible, and we try to do a lot with volunteers," Hawes said.