Literacy Volunteers of Ontario County History

By Ginny Barton

Way back in 1964, Geneva's Church Women United members became aware that many Geneva adults needed to improve their reading and writing skills. A small article appeared in the Geneva Times: Syracuse Church Women United would hold a workshop, training people to teach adults to read! However, participants had to stay four days in Syracuse, and no one in Geneva could give that much time. Over two years passed - until the Rev. Vernon Lee came to Geneva's Methodist Church. Marsha, his wife, had been trained in Syracuse. She was immediately enlisted to give our first workshop, attended by some 10-12 people.

Dot Magley became our first president. followed by Mary Jeanne Grabman. Both did much more than coordinate and keep records. They taught, assisted at Adult Basic Education classes, gave tutor-training workshops, matched students and tutors, etc., with very little help. Most tutors wanted to teach one-to-one, not administer.

When Mary Jeanne Grabman had to give up the (volunteer) job, a crisis arose. No one could take on all that work! LVA was now spreading to other parts of New York State. Their affiliate trouble shooter, Connie Haendle, met with us to try to solve the problem. Mary Schult agreed to teach workshops, as she had done for the Girl Scouts although not trained to teach LV. Others took on the jobs of secretary, treasurer, tutor, coordinator, etc. With all the main jobs covered, I said I'd be president, if LVA would accept someone not yet trained as a tutor. (I remedied that a year later!) Connie reluctantly agreed.

Mary Schult proved to be a huge success. She was our main tutor trainer for many years. Her workshops included people from Wayne, Seneca, and Yates Counties, as well as Ontario. Eventually she gave the first workshops to start affiliates in each of these surrounding counties.

When several Vietnamese families came to Ontario County in the early '70s, we again could find no one to go for the new ESL training in Syracuse. The families were here and needed help, so Elizabeth Hart and I sent for LV's materials, "boned up", and taught our first ESL workshop. Again it worked out well, although we bent the rules!

Some early problems:
  1. Convincing both prospective tutors and prospective students that volunteers could succeed where the schools did not.

  2. Difficulty getting tutors and students together. With few students and few tutors, it was hard to match schedules and keep traveling reasonable.

  3. No paid staff While we remain a volunteer organization, like the Red Cross, Scouts., etc., without a paid staff no organization can continue on a high level.

In 35 years, many Ontario County adults have improved their language skills, thanks to LVOC tutors and staff. Wonderful, but much more to do.