“I was the kid with the flashlight under the covers,” says Jeff Carter of his love for reading. That led him to literacy volunteering. Carter and his first student were both 23. While Carter studied law texts, his student struggled with written instructions at his job as an electrian’s apprentice. They worked together for three years, and the student’s confidence grew to the point where he could read a book with his children.
“It struck me as amazing,” says Carter, now executive director of DC LEARNs (866-read-out; dclearns.org) , an organization devoted to raising awareness of literacy and to recruiting volunteers. “If I’d been born 20 miles away, that would’ve been me. He was every bit as smart as me—probably smarter.”
DC LEARNs is the best first step for those looking to pass on the gift of literacy. The group funnels potential volunteers into 146 area programs by using a three-question online survey that finds a good fit. Volunteers choose where and when they can help as well as what kind of assistance they’d like to offer—English as a Second Language, general equivalency diploma preparation, or basic reading and writing.
DC LEARNs will host a volunteer-recruitment event at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library (901 G St., NW; 202-727-0321) on September 14 at 6:30. Here are a few of the groups DC LEARNs works with:
Literacy Volunteers of the National Capital Area (1325 W St., NW; 202-387-1772; lvanca.org) provides eight hours of training for one-on-one tutoring and requests a one-year commitment of two hours a week.
Language, Education & Technology Center (2200 California St., NW; 202-387-2616; languageetc.org) serves low-income adult immigrants from the first floor of Our Lady of the Americas Catholic Church. Language ETC’s 12-week terms include ESL classes, where newcomers teach alongside veteran volunteers. The “coteaching” method, says executive director Jeanie Lee, helps foster a mentoring relationship.
Everybody Wins! DC (666 11th St., NW; 202-347-wins; everybodywinsdc.org) has a “power lunch” program pairing volunteers and elementary-school children to read once a week during lunch hour.