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Washtenaw United: Improving Adult Literacy Skills During The Pandemic

Washtenaw United
Washtenaw Literacy

For nearly 50 years, Washtenaw Literacy has been dedicated to improving math and reading skills for adults.  Now as the COVID-19 crisis goes on, the organization has had to change their tactics.  Washtenaw Literacy executive director Amy Goodman joins WEMU's David Fair to discuss the organization's new methods in delivering the best adult education possible for this week's "Washtenaw United."

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area.  And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services.  It is a community voice.  It is 'Washtenaw United.'


Washtenaw Literacy is Michigan’s oldest and largest literacy council, providing literacy programming for low-literate adults, age 16 and older that include free tutoring in reading, writing, math, digital literacy and learning English as a second language.  Programming is delivered throughout Washtenaw County through a highly trained and supervised network of volunteer literacy tutors.  In 2021, Washtenaw Literacy will celebrate its 50th anniversary. 

A national leader, in the 2019-2020 program year, Washtenaw Literacy:

  • Served over 1500 low-literate neighbors,
  • Trained, deployed and supervised over 500 tutors,
  • Delivered over 50,000 hours of programming,
  • Partners with numerous agencies including Washtenaw Community College, the Washtenaw County Jail, Washtenaw Intermediate School District, Eastern Michigan University YPSI Writes Program, all county library systems, social service agencies and faith-based organizations.

Our learners:

  • 89% live below the poverty line,
  • Predominantly 25-39 years old, just beyond the K-12 system,
  • 69% are parents of pre-k through 12 school-aged children, and
  • ESL learners represent 69 different cultures.


Amy M. Goodman, Washtenaw Literacy Executive Director has over twenty-six years’ experience in nonprofit organizational, resource, and program development built in Seattle and SE Michigan.  Her background in is social services, family therapy, and educational leadership, policy, and governance.  In her twelve years with Washtenaw Literacy, she has launched major initiatives, including a computer learning lab located in high-need neighborhoods in Washtenaw County, expanded programming with social service agencies, Washtenaw Literacy’s unique LoSAC Score (Low-Skilled Adult Count) measuring the incidence of low literacy within the social safety net, and LIFT (Learning Is a Family Thing) programming to support low-literate parents of pre-K and school-aged children.  Amy is an alumna of the University of Minnesotaand the University of Washington.


Washtenaw Literacy


Though the way we work may temporarily change, our commitment to the community will not. United Way has responded to our community’s most pressing needs for nearly 100 years.  We will continue to be there to help in every way we can. 

Most importantly the COVID-19 Community Relief Fund will help ensure that there is financial support for individuals, families and community organizations.  

Our Community Relief Fund grants are providing unrestricted operating support to local human service nonprofits and community groups meeting immediate, emergent, and unanticipated needs of people and communities impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Prioritizing response efforts that attend to racial inequity remains a central tenet in United Way’s grant making as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal the disproportionate impact of this virus on people and communities of color. (See Washtenaw County COVID-19 data.

To learn more about the fund and investments made, click here.

A COVID-19 Community Relief Fund grant was made to Washtenaw Literacy to allow them to keep serving people with low literacy and pivot their services to virtual engagement and GED education supports. Washtenaw Literacy’s response: 

RESPONSE: Shutting down in-person programming led to new ways to deliver services safely.  We retooled plain language curricula around health literacy.  Low-literate neighbors are outside of the bounds of critical information; We have stepped up to utilize our unique paths of communication with vulnerable populations to disseminate factual information. 

RESILIENCE: Tailoring programming to address emerging community needs.  In addition to the health literacy needs, low-literate neighbors suddenly find themselves charged with educating their children.  Our tutors are the bridge to understanding new technology, instructions from educators and effectively supporting children’s in-home learning. 

RECOVERY: During the great recession, we served unemployed and underemployed learners seeking to upskill.  Emerging from lockdowns, our economy will be back in that space.  Already, we are seeing an uptick of inquiries to finish a GED and improve work skills in response to massive unemployment. 

Washtenaw Literacy addresses the issues at the heart of the tragic manifestation of the COVID crisis among low income, low literate and people of color and from non-native cultures.  This funding supports the focus of their pandemic operations on exactly this population, neighbors to whom they already have significant ties.  They seek to give words to those in our community who often do not have a voice or access to opportunity. It is clear that literacy will support recovery for neighbors marginalized by low-literacy. 

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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