A great place for adult learning in Detroit

Dominican Literacy Center Staff

Dominican Literacy Center News

Read coverage of the Dominican Literacy Center in the news:

October 2011, Detroit Free Press

March 11, 2010, Grosse Pointe News.
October 28, 2009, Detroit Free Press.

March 11, 2010, Grosse Pointe News.
"Teaching the Basics"

'Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.'
Frederick Douglass

By Ann L. Fouty
Features Editor

Ideally, Adrian Dominican sisters Janice Brown and Sue Schreiber would like to see The Dominican Literacy Program go out of business. Ideally, the two would like everyone in the program's service area, Detroit's east side, to be able to read, write, do math and be computer literate. Until that time, the program will continue to provide free, one-on-one tutoring skills to those 18 years and older, as it has since 1989.

We started with five volunteers and 20 students. Today, there are 260 volunteers and 327 students. The needs keep increasing," said Brown, who has been with the program for four years. "With the shift in the economy, with the good factory jobs disappearing, people can't just step into new jobs without the basic skills. Reading, writing and basic computer skills are needed."

Adding to the role of teaching the basics and laying the ground for General Education Development preparation classes, the literacy program includes another segment of the population — English as a second language students. They come from Russia, Bosnia, Poland, Vietnam, Senegal, Columbia, Jamaica, Bangladesh, China, Croacia, Albania and the Ukraine. In fact, the literacy program has served more than 20 ethnic populations.

Liz Ricci of Grosse Pointe Woods tutors an Albanian woman who enrolled with a rudimentary knowledge of English, identifying basic words by flipping through a picture book. Spending two hours together once a week for months has improved her grammar and self confidence.

"The center has a program of books with exercises in each book," Ricci said.

When the lesson is complete, the learner's proficiency is tested. Though the program is free, students purchase their books, Brown said, providing a sense of ownership.

Between the homework and lessons, Ricci said her student "has a renewed sense of purpose. She keeps practicing. She is identifying more."

Denise Neville of Grosse Pointe Shores has been working with Marcia, of Detroit, for seven years. Together, they have been practicing reading, writing and some arithmetic.

Saddled with health issues, Marcia started school late, which put her behind, Neville explained. "She never caught up. She never graduated," Neville said. Entering the Dominican literacy program was a way to be a role model to her children. "Reading is her focus," Neville said. "She's a trooper." Practicing literacy skills, Neville helped Marcia take her written driver's test and registered her to vote.

Literacy makes all the difference in the world, Brown said. She added there is a direct correlation between the parent's basic skills and their children's skills. Thus, the literacy program is serving two generations through a curriculum geared toward new adult readers.

The literacy program uses the Laubach method of learning.

The reading material is structured for the adult student with a reading level between first and sixth grade, Brown said. "The program has the tools to build a life. They (students) are encouraged to build on what they have learned," Brown said. She added, students feel at home in the building which also houses the Head Start program. Often times she has seen parents register their children in Head Start then register themselves in the literacy program, either as students or tutors.

Tutors come from all walks of life, Brown said. Many are retired and have been teachers, auto industry engineers, video experts, construction workers, plumbers, nurses and social workers. Ricci was drawn in by her daughter, an unemployed teacher.

"I'd been thinking about it for a good year. My daughter didn't have a job. She volunteered. I signed up," she said. And that was five years ago.

Neville has been a tutor for seven years. "I moved to the area. I was a stay at home mom with a degree in journalism," she said. Both wanted to contribute.

"It is very rewarding, helping facilitate another person to learning," Brown said.

Semi-retired nurse and retired English teacher, Fran and Ed Benz of the City of Grosse Pointe who have been tutoring for five years, agree. The couple returns to the center on Harper in Detroit, returning because they are sharing a skill. "We've been so blessed, it is (tutoring) giving back," he said. Both say they have a special student

"My guy," Ed said, "is a special case. He is struggling. We take baby steps. You reward for crawling, as well as running. Fran said of her student: "The man knows baseball. He can't get the capitalization at the beginning of a sentence and end with a period. But that's OK." Both students, the Benzs say, enjoy attending their tutoring session and share lunch with the couple. "It's a wonderful place," Fran said. "It's a totally welcoming atmosphere. It's very happy. There is no negativism. Everything is positive. The whole atmosphere is 'we are going to succeed.'"

The list of accomplishments by the 4,200 learners served is lengthy:

* Attain consumer skills
* Improve reading levels
* Enter or retain employment or improve employability skills
* Enter community college, academic or vocational programs
* Register to vote for the first time
* Obtain citizenship or achieve citizenship skills
* Increase involvement in community activities
* Become more involved in children's education
* Attend a parent-teacher conference
* Visit a library
* Purchase a book or magazine
* Read a menu
* Write a note to a friend
* Leave public assistance

It's a win-win program, the tutors and nuns agree. Each gives and each gets. "We are called where others may not want to go because there is not a lot of prestige in the work set out; however, it is rewarding work," Brown said. "I stay because I have been taken back by stories. They want to improve for themselves and their kids and family."

"It's moving. It is very rewarding helping facilitate another person to learning." Schreiber added, "We look to see the people who haven't had the opportunity to learn and gain self confidence and pass it on to their children and contribute to the community."

"It's such a reward. It's not a one-way street. What an easy way to help," Neville said. "She's (Marcia) helped me through tough times and I've helped her." As long there are people like Marcia in need, the Dominican Literacy Center will stay in business.

For more information or to volunteer, the Dominican Literacy Center is located at 11148 Harper, Detroit, in the Warren/Conner Development Coalition building; call (313) 267-1000, or visit dlcliteracy. org.  Tutoring workshops are run twice a year, in May and October.*

Reprinted with permission of the Grosse Pointe News.

*DLC update as of June 1, 2013: Tutor Training Workshops now take place three times per year.

October 28, 2009, Detroit Free Press.
by Cecil Angel
Free Press Staff Writer

The flyer that stuck in the screen door of Sallie Harris' east-side Detroit home announcing a program to teach people how to read was a godsend.

For years, Harris, 65, a mother of four and grandmother of 10, had been telling herself that she would go back to school. And now the Dominican Literacy Center, a program staffed by volunteer tutors, was offering her an opportunity to learn.

"I feel great. I feel like I have expanded, grown big," said Harris, who now boasts how she can read paragraphs. "Makes me feel proud, real proud."

Currently, 20 people are on the center's waiting list to get help learning to read, said Sister Janice Brown, O.P., director of the Dominican Center, but there are not enough tutors. "We are busy," she said of the center that is marking its 20th year. "Unemployment has a direct connection to illiteracy."

At last count, the center had 260 tutors and recently trained 20 more. But 300 are needed, Brown said.

They help between 330 to 350 students each year. Brown said tutors come from all over metro Detroit.

Brenda Redding, 74, a retired nurse living in Detroit, began volunteering as a tutor in February. She was matched with Eissa Fadhel, a 27-year-old factory worker from Yemen who has been in the United States for four years and lives in Hamtramck. "There is just a tremendous personal satisfaction," Redding said. "I've learned so much through this experience."

Brown said that becoming a tutor is not complicated. Monthly orientation sessions run for about two hours. If the volunteer decides he or she is interested, then they undergo a 12-hour certification program. The next certification session is offered in January.

The center's service is free to those who want help and is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, so volunteers have flexibility, Brown said.*

Contact Cecil Angel: 313-223-4531 or angel@freepress.com

*DLC update as of June 1, 2013: The Center now has expanded hours of operation.

DLC News Links

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