North Texas Literacy Coalition:
Making a Difference Through Literacy
In 2001, North Texas business leaders and public officials recognized the need for collaboration and cooperation to address regional issues and ensure North Texas remained globally competitive in the future. Their vision prompted the creation of the North Texas Future Fund (NTFF) to identify and confront critical issues in the region, and illiteracy emerged as the primary target.
The NTFF recognized the need for cohesiveness in a regional literacy program in order to advance toward a literate population, and specifically, a qualified literate workforce.
After many years of research and much discussion, in January 2009, the NTFF launched its regional literacy program—the North Texas Literacy Coalition. This was the easy part.
Coalition building in North Texas is easy because it is a region blessed with visionary leaders who recognize that the coming together of leadership to reach a consensus around regional initiatives can mean real change for North Texas. Launching a program in the name of a coalition is perhaps a success, but the real story lies in the hearts of the people who give their time, leadership and resources to bring an effort of collaboration and cooperation to fruition.
So, what does success look like in a region consisting of 8,990 square miles, 12 counties, 6.6 million citizens, and 147 incorporated municipalities? In North Texas, it is estimated that 500,000 people are functionally illiterate. Each year, an additional 60,000 in need of literacy services are coming into North Texas. Current literacy providers, operating at or near capacity, are serving an estimated 25,000 people annually. While disparity between existing capacity and need is indeed great, significant work is being done to respond to those who need literacy services. The North Texas Literacy Coalition is working to strengthen existing literacy providers; facilities and volunteers are being recruited for new literacy instruction classes; workplace programs are being developed to increase workers’ skills and value in the workplace, thus strengthening the family and the community; and, literacy resources and networking opportunities are being made available through a regional literacy website (www.northtexasfuturefund.org).
Success is making a difference in one life at a time. Success is empowering a single mom to better provide for her children; success is enabling the displaced worker with the skills to complete a job application and improve his or her job opportunities; success is the corporate giver that values an investment in community and people; success is the local library that allocates limited resources to ensure a reading enhancement program; and success is the diverse mix of business leaders, public officials, and community agencies that come to the table, roll up their sleeves, and stay the course even though no end is in sight. While we may not be able to say ‘mission accomplished’ in eradicating illiteracy in North Texas, we can celebrate success in building a regional coalition that is far-reaching enough to empower the remotest corner of the North Texas region through literacy.
What is a success story without a real hero? The NTFF’s North Texas Literacy Coalition was proud to honor a few of its regional literacy champions in April at the inaugural North Texas Bridge Awards for Literacy Advocacy. Here are this year’s award recipients: J.R. Labbe, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, one of Fort Worth’s ‘community assets.’ Ms. Labbe has worked tirelessly promoting adult literacy with the Rotary Club of Fort Worth and by serving on the Adult Literacy Advisory Board of the United Way of Tarrant County and was the first president of the Tarrant Literacy Coalition; John and Rosetta Walz, Coordinators for English Equals Opportunity; Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT)—in a 12-month period, LIFT served more than 8,000 adults in its classes. In addition, the program provides GED training in 13 North Texas locations with more than 700 low literate adults participating; Rotary Club of Fort Worth—adopted literacy as its major issue and sponsor of the Tarrant County Corporate Spelling Bee supporting the Tarrant Literacy Coalition; Chesapeake Energy Corporation supports numerous programs that aim to increase adult literacy including supporting the Fort Worth Public Library Foundation, Literacy for Life, the Rotary Club of Fort Worth and the Forest Hill Public Library; Verizon Communications, with the vision of David Russell, the Verizon Foundation’s nationwide advocacy of literacy was brought to the forefront of regional issues supported by the North Texas Future Fund. Verizon provides ThinkFinity, a free program that offers literacy distance learning. In North Texas, Verizon has donated leadership and resources as well as encouraging Verizon employee volunteerism to combat the growing literacy problem in the region.
While the North Texas region continues to face enormous challenges in its fight against illiteracy, we can be encouraged by the dedication and commitment demonstrated by members of the North Texas Literacy Coalition. Today, our region is responding to the call—working together in collaboration to identify real strategies to exponentially reduce illiteracy in North Texas. This is what success looks like in North Texas.
About the Author
Valerie Hodges, Vice President Administration, North Texas Commission and North Texas Future Fund, is responsible for the North Texas Future Fund literacy program including the North Texas Literacy Coalition.