Giving Back with READ Ottawa

Giving Back with 
READ Ottawa

Understanding medical forms, prescription medication, a restaurant menu, road signs, or a child’s report card requires the ability to read. Learning to read (or to read more fluently) can open the world to greater opportunities. Many of the adult learners in the one-on-one free tutoring program offered by the nonprofit agency READ Ottawa go on to get promotions at their current jobs or find better ones. 

Stormie Drake, executive director of READ Ottawa
Stormie Drake,
executive director of READ Ottawa

Q: What’s the agency’s history?  

Stormie Drake: READ Ottawa was founded in 2008. The acronym stands for Reading Enables Adult Development. The first tutor training was held in the spring of 2009; the organization was established as a nonprofit in 2010. It started with three learner/tutor pairs and has grown each year to support more than 50 learner/tutor pairs annually. In 2022, READ Ottawa expanded from northwest Ottawa County to include the Holland and Zeeland area. The program has evolved to provide adult education and life skills in addition to literacy skills.

Since READ Ottawa was established, the organization has helped 250 adults achieve literacy and language goals. In 2022 alone, READ Ottawa served 66 adults, trained 45 tutors, and had a total of 85 volunteer tutors. 

Q: What needs does READ Ottawa address?

A: According to the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, 14 percent of adults in Ottawa County are reading below proficiency. The 2020 U.S. census found 199,592 adults live in Ottawa County, which means nearly 30,000 adults in Ottawa County read below proficiency. 

Q: How does READ Ottawa respond?

A: READ Ottawa’s mission is to provide adults with an opportunity to improve and transform their lives by strengthening their reading and language fluency. The program offers free tutoring to adults 18 and older who live in or near Ottawa County. 

Each adult learner is paired with a trained tutor to receive tutoring in a one-on-one format. This format is essential because many people do not thrive in a classroom setting and need individualized instruction. Furthermore, many learners’ job schedules preclude attending scheduled classes offered by the community. Pairs meet weekly for one to two hours. Most often, they meet at local libraries due to the resources available. Typically, adult learners are in the READ Program for at least a year, but it varies according to one’s goals and progress. 

READ Ottawa serves a variety of adults based on their unique needs and goals, so learners get help not only with English fluency and reading, but also GED preparation, driver’s license preparation, workforce development, financial literacy, family literacy and community involvement. Learners from other countries get help with the U.S. citizenship process. 

Q: What type of training do your tutors receive? 

A: Tutors are volunteers who are trained during an initial five-hour session that provides strategies, tools and resources. Because READ Ottawa serves adults with various skills and abilities, the training walks tutors through the types of learners they may be paired with. READ Ottawa serves both native and non-native English speakers. The training incorporates a culture-sensitive piece to understand that every learner is different, and that some have gone through traumatic experiences before coming to READ Ottawa. 

Q: What are common outcomes? 

A: Many learners go on to get promotions at their current jobs, or find better jobs which allow them to provide more for their families. The ultimate goal is that the learners improve their lives through literacy skills. 

Q: How can people support READ Ottawa’s efforts?

A: READ Ottawa relies on the generosity of the community’s donations to continue to provide free tutoring services to adults. It costs $1,000 to support a pair for a year.