SESLOC Spotlight Literacy for Life

SESLOC Spotlight: Literacy for Life

SESLOC Spotlight highlights local organizations that make the Central Coast the best place to live.

Literacy for Life is a nonprofit that offers free, one-on-one English literacy programs to adults in San Luis Obispo County. Bernadette Bernardi, Executive Director, explains how volunteer tutors support literacy in our community:

Literacy for Life

Industry: Nonprofit

Serving the Central Coast since: 1982

How many employees? 4

How many volunteers? 125

What’s your mission? Literacy for Life transforms the community, empowering individuals by removing barriers to success and strengthening relationships through the power of literacy.

What’s unique about Literacy for Life? Literacy for Life, in partnership with SLO County libraries, is the California State Library Literacy Service for San Luis Obispo County.  We offer free one-on-one basic English instruction to adults 16 older.  We assess everyone’s literacy level and guide them to set and meet their individual literacy learning goals.

Before the global pandemic, tutors and learners met in person at one of our San Luis Obispo County learning centers most convenient to them. Because of Covid, we transitioned to online tutoring in which tutors and learners set their schedules and continue working toward meeting their individual literacy goals. We are slowly and safely inching toward re-opening our in-person centers because we realize how valuable the relationships formed between tutors and learners go beyond just teaching and learning.  Our learners are often new to our communities and culture, so the tutors become mentors to these new community members as they find their way. The bonds become friendships and last way beyond the last English language instruction.

We offer Family Literacy to assure parents are literate and able to be active participants in their children’s early learning. One way for adults to pass on good literacy practices to the children in their lives is by practicing with children’s books. Adult learners read and master children’s books so that they can eventually read the books aloud to their children and have the books in their homes.  The goal of family literacy is to empower adults with literacy skills that they can pass on to their children, breaking the cycle of illiteracy.

We offer an English as a Second Language (ESL) program that serves as the first step in language acquisition for English speakers of other first languages and offers a complete assessment to determine the literacy level of each learner. We ask each learner to set individual literacy goals, and many of our learners have achieved such goals as becoming a United States citizen or passing the GED.

For English as a first language learner, we offer a non-threatening learning environment where they can be unashamed and comfortable. Their literacy level is assessed and a plan to improve it is created. For many English first language learners, we become the first reading and writing learning success that they have experienced.

What do you attribute to your success? We attribute our success to the generosity of our volunteers, funders, donors, and board members along with the dedicated efforts of our learners. Volunteer Center Directors in each community function as the managers of our literacy learning center in their community.

The Center Directors meet with our staff to discuss operations and management, as well as perform assessments for each new learner and help guide new tutors.  Although our centers are currently closed for in-person tutoring and learning, our volunteer Center Directors and tutors have stayed consistent in their commitment to our mission- continuing to serve our learners.

San Luis Obispo County communities have been supportive of our work since the mid-1970s and have been consistent in that support ever since be it through volunteering with us, contributing funds, or attending our special events. Our silent partners throughout have been the churches, schools, and libraries that have donated to us the use of their conference and classrooms so that we have clean, comfortable, safe spaces for our tutors and learners to do their work.  The ongoing partnership with SLO County Libraries has been key to our visibility.

What advice would you give someone interested in supporting your mission? Individuals interested in supporting our mission may become trained volunteer tutors. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer tutor, please call our office at (805)- 541-4219 or visit our website for more information on how to get involved. An additional way to support our mission is through contributions which are accepted via mail-in donations to: Literacy for Life, P.O. Box 1023 San Luis Obispo, CA 93406. When you give the gift of literacy, you give the gift of a higher quality of life.

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