Literacy Council of Kitsap celebrates 30 years

Elicia Jones works on an essay for her GED class at the Literacy Council of Kitsap’s Bremerton office. - Steven DeDual/staff photo
Elicia Jones works on an essay for her GED class at the Literacy Council of Kitsap’s Bremerton office.
— image credit: Steven DeDual/staff photo

Rosemary Doar is credited with being the first person in the county to recognize a need for a literacy program. She created the first Literacy Council tutoring program in the Department of Social and Health Services office in 1979.

At the time, a large population of Vietnamese “boat people” resided in the county.

The program began the year with 26 tutors and by December, 62 tutors were helping these English as a Second Language students.

By the early 1980s, Irene Heninger, executive director of Kitsap Regional Library at that time, created space within the downtown library branch for the program.

The council moved to the lower floor of the library in 1990, where it is still located, and became a United Way agency.

Six years later, the council received its first DSHS contract to provide vocational instruction to ESL students and began providing Adult Basic Education and GED preparation classes just one year later.

The Bremerton office gained a computer lab in 1999.

That lab has been upgraded throughout the years and still exists today, providing more educational opportunities to those in need.

The council continues helping people obtain their GED or diploma as well as ESL classes for the large Guatemalan population that resides in Kitsap now.

Lorene Leider, ESL coordinator for the council, said the council depends heavily on its volunteer tutors.

“The volunteers are the backbone of our program,” she said.

These volunteers work one-on-one with students and provide help in many different capacities, according to Leider. The programs are designed so a person receives help not only in the classroom, but outside in what Leider calls “real life” situations.

“That’s the beauty of using volunteer tutors,” Leider said. “We’ve even had tutors take students to places like the fair.”

The classes are designed to teach individuals rather than large groups so each student can receive help where they need it most.

Joe Abo, a retired engineer at Keyport and Literacy Council GED tutor for more than 15 years, said he enjoys meeting students and watching them succeed.

“Most of the time people come here because of circumstances,” he said. “They are motivated to learn and I enjoy helping them.”

Abo said he has even made a friend or two while volunteering and one good fishing buddy as well.

There is no shortage of women working to increase their English skills either, and according to Leider, a child’s success is directly connected to the educational level of his or her mother.

“We help adult students with the skills they need to either find work or to secure better work,” she said.

Elicia Jones is one such mother looking to secure a better life for her and her child.

“I learned about the council through DSHS,” she said. “I need to get a GED and funding for Olympic College’s GED program was cut.”

Jones left school after becoming pregnant and was unable to find good work to support herself and a child. The Literacy Council has been able to help her learn the skills she needs to obtain her GED. In the five months she has been in the program, she feels her skills have improved greatly.

“It took a lot of work,” she said. “It can be a little frustrating at times. But (the tutors) are not strict and they are patient.”

The council is having a luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 30 at the Kitsap Conference Center in Bremerton to celebrate its 30-year existence and thank the community for all its support.

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