Columbus Literacy Council offers immigrants a 'spectrum of services'
“Let him read it his way.”
Joy Reyes was a little girl, only 3 or 4 years old, but remembers her parents telling her to let her grandpa, an immigrant from Sweden, read “his way.” Though she knew the plot of the stories he read, he told the tale differently, and she wasn’t sure why.
The answer came when a high school literacy lesson brought that memory up for Reyes, whose parents later told her, “He could not read.”
Though she had her answer, Reyes wasn’t bound to tuck her findings away in the back of her mind. Instead, she has dedicated her life to changing the community through her role as CEO and director of strategic initiatives for the Columbus Literacy Council, the 51-year-old nonprofit that serves underserved communities.
“It really hit home with me,” Reyes says. “When I saw the opportunity [to join the organization], I really felt like this was a great way for me to make a contribution to the community.”
The Columbus Literacy Council offers programs and services for children and adults ranging from etiquette lessons to a citizenship preparedness course and a GED attainment program.
Core English lessons are for those who cannot yet speak English, and those who do but need assistance with reading and writing. The organization also offers American Sign Language, Spanish and Russian on a rotating basis each year.
In 2020, the nonprofit had $2.8 million in revenue.
While other organizations offer similar services, the Literacy Council offers it all under one roof, Reyes says.
“What we find is that immigrants find us,” Reyes says. “And they’re coming to us for a spectrum of services.”
The organization has four offices, three in Columbus and one in Cincinnati with a combined total of 35 paid employees and around 100 volunteers this year. A full staff is usually around 48 employees with 300 volunteers, but COVID-19 took a toll on the organization, Reyes says. There are currently nine open positions.
Despite a staff shortage and strict CDC guidelines in the wake of the pandemic, Reyes and her team took no time off in establishing a 2020 action plan: CLC Connect. The team began using Zoom last March to bring all its offerings online and even added new programs like cooking shows and game shows while posting content on YouTube and Facebook.
The brains behind much of the online platform came from Robert Esomar, the director of volunteer services who has been with the organization since 2013. While in-person activities have resumed, he doesn’t see CLC Connect going away anytime soon.
“A positive thing that we noticed, even though it was virtual, was that there was still a lot of participation,” Esomar says.
Within a few months of establishing CLC Connect, the nonprofit managed to host its annual “Marvel*US’’ kids summer camp online last year. The camp is for kids ages 5 to 13 and analyzes the social and emotional aspects of popular superheroes while providing other educational activities. It’s Reyes’ favorite program.
Despite being online, the camp had 92 participants last year. This year, it will be held in person in Reynoldsburg with 45 campers. The organization has a waitlist of around 100 children, Reyes says. While participation is free, the team is talking about creating a paid option to allow for more attendees.
Reyes says the nonprofit wouldn’t be where it is today without the community’s immigrant population. For both her and Esomar, the experience has been life-changing.
“I think it’s so incredible,” Esomar says. “The lives that we’ve touched through the years … I think that’s why we’re important here in central Ohio.”
Columbus Literacy Council
92 Jefferson Ave., Columbus 43215
Locations: Courtright Road, Jefferson Avenue and Chantry Drive in Columbus, and Coffey Street in Cincinnati
Mission: To increase employability, enable future education, encourage civic involvement and promote family stability and support.
Revenue: $2.8 million in 2020
Funding: Contracts 65%, government 15%, grants 13%, donations 6%, United Way 1%