Fifty Ways #22 — Never Too Late

It’s never too late to recognize hard work. Especially if it involves celebrating the achievement of a milestone like graduation. We did that last Sunday at Western Hills Baptist Church for three high school grads. One of them was Shelby Ferguson. I remember when she was born. Now Shelby is headed to college at Centenary in Louisiana. Her parents Pam and Ray have raised her well. Provided opportunities and encouragement along the way. We’re proud of you Shelby!

You may remember Shelby from our newsletter in 2011. She was a part of a team that provided beginning home libraries to families in Eagle Pass. Do you remember Shelby’s reflections about that trip?

Shelby then and now--large print

The youth that she overheard talking about low literacy skills have not had the advantages so many take for granted. I wonder if either of those girls will be walking across a stage this spring? Let’s hope that seeds planted in Eagle Pass and elsewhere through Books for the Border and Beyond will impact future graduations in Texas and elsewhere.

Celebrate graduates. Pat them on the back. Pray for them. Ask them about their plans for the future. Plant seeds for future graduations.

We have been blessed to be a blessing…


Fifty Ways #11 — Would it be OK, if?

In a recent conversation with a dear soul who is planning a major back to school event for hundreds of children, that question came up. Would it be OK, if? If we modified the Books for the Border and Beyond design for bookcases? The answer was YES, of course. In this case, a crate from Home Depot will be used to get books to children in a way that provides some permanent storage.

The original design was developed to address the need to give books a secure place in homes that sometimes lack solid floors – in these United States. I’ve been in homes in Texas along the border with Mexico that have dirt floors. So a bookcase provides some security for treasured books – including school texts – in such locations.

colonia family with books

In the six years since the first bookcases were shared with families in Eagle Pass, more than three thousand families have received beginning home libraries. The bookcases have differed in construction methods; some have actually been bookshelves. One junior high principal recently suggested using discarded pickle buckets as homes for books. Imagine the possibilities…

 pickle bucket

The point is to fit the container to the need. On the list of 50 Ways Your Church Can Bless Your Community Through Literacy, #11 is Adapt the family reading fair concept in other settings where families lack books at home. That certainly includes adapting the container.

One suggestion: As much as possible include the families who will take the container home in the decoration (and/or manufacture) of the bookcase, bookshelf, or pickle bucket. This personalizes the home library and adds an element of fun to the family reading fair. See other suggestions on the Literacy Connexus website for hosting a family reading fair.

And I still love the bookcases…

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Web log = Blog

The term “blog” is reminiscent of the intro to Star Trek when we’re reminded of stardates – fictional representations designed to disguise actual time of voyages “where no man has gone before.” I wish that I had begun a “blog” on May 1, 2004, when Literacy Connexus began. Blogging was in its infancy then, too. A diary would have worked. Perhaps in 2024 I’ll look back on today’s “blog” and be glad for the discipline of blogging at least every two weeks for the second ten years of Literacy Connexus.

What’s certain is that this initiative is focused at the intersection of volunteers and churches – an appropriate way to bid farewell to April as Volunteer Month. Literacy Connexus is all about volunteers helping people through church-based literacy ministries. Volunteers make it work and work well. So thank you, volunteers. Volunteers who have taught English as a second language, who have taught adults to read, who have tutored children and youth. This is the tradition, our literacy missions heritage. Thanks, too, volunteers who have built bookcases for children who live in homes without books. Thanks for those who have created teaching materials and written articles and given expression to the many ways that churches can bless their communities through literacy.

donating books is fun

What will the next ten years look like? More persons for whom English is not their native language are coming to Texas: refugees, immigrants, and internationals. We have a choice. We can embrace and encourage or turn inward and atrophy. Many adults are outside the workforce because they lack skills and credentials for employment. The GED is more difficult and more in demand (expected, really). How will churches open their doors to persons who are marginalized? We have a choice. And what of the cycle of poverty? Will we link arms with those who see the need for early intervention such as preschool for all? Will we explore creative new approaches in working with schools and other partners who believe in a meaningful future for all children? Again, we have a choice.

We also have a choice when it comes to answering that most crucial of questions: Why are you doing this? Why are you spending your time teaching me? Why did you come all the way out here to bring books and bookcases to these children? Why are you tutoring at that elementary school? Why, indeed? One could make the case for enlightened self-interest. Community service blesses the community. A rising tide lifts all boats and so forth. We can certainly point to the Golden Rule. Consider one of the principles of the helping relationship that was included in a little book published many years ago by Woman’s Missionary Union: The helper combines witness and ministry to communicate the love of Christ. Both/and not either/or. Both.

Stay tuned…

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Fifty Ways #27 — Begin an English as a Second Language Ministry

Imagine that you’ve just been transferred with your family to the United States. While you’ve heard English on television, the sounds are still jarring to you—certainly not familiar.  Your spouse speaks English well enough for the job setting; your young children will be in school, picking up the new language quickly.  Because your assignment is temporary, your motivation to learn a second language is limited.  Yes, it would be helpful in shopping and making your way around a new city . . . but worth the effort to study strange new sounds? 


Or picture this?  You are new to the U.S.  You and your family have lived in a refugee camp for the past eight years.  You’ve heard some English, but no classes were available, and survival was more important than trying to learn a language. Now you have access to ESL – but for just a few months.  And the pressure to learn so many new things is overwhelming.  Access to classes is the biggest hurdle.  And childcare is nonexistent.

Your family has lived in the US for years but it’s been easier to stick with your first language. Everything you wanted to do could be accomplished in your mother tongue. No one could have guessed the stress that would accompany family disruption.  Now you have to enter the work force. And you find yourself challenged by limited English proficiency.

class in session 

Good news!  Churches across Texas have been planning for you.  In some cases for more than forty years, instruction in ESL has been offered in local churches.  For internationals and refugees and immigrants. More than 2,000 persons volunteer in church-based ESL ministries or programs each week through the school year.  Most do not speak the language of their students.  Since they collectively teach persons from 85 countries, this is not surprising. More classes are needed though.  Many more.

 Consider beginning an English as a second language ministry.  We’d like to help you do just that. Contact us at  It’s one more way volunteers are making a difference in communities in Texas.  Join us!

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It’s National Volunteer Month!

I am working through the list of 50 Ways Your Church Can Bless Your Community Through Literacy.  However, for the month of April – National Volunteer Month – I’m taking a side bar.  That said, consider which of the 50 Ways would get very far without volunteers.  Not many, if any. The list is volunteer driven.  For example, I was going to blog today about #22:  Celebrate educational achievement by recognizing graduates. 

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Suppose I were writing about that.  About the importance of paying attention to those who have achieved the milestone of completing high school, college, or graduate school.  What probably would have happened in some church, somewhere, would be that a lay person – a volunteer if you will – would have e-mailed a church staff member and said something like, “Why don’t we have special recognition for graduates this May?” or “I’d be happy to volunteer to help with the graduate recognition this year.”  Likely, that person would have been turned loose to blow up balloons, make punch, or buy special Bibles for those graduating. 

Imagine the good things that happened at the Red Oak Baptist Church in Longview when several churches joined to congratulate the graduates.  Picture busy volunteers making good memories for grads and their families.  Blessing young people and strengthening bonds in the community.

Local churches, families recognize graduates

Perhaps you’ve already made a note to check with your church leadership about what’s going to happen this May in your church.  It wouldn’t surprise me.  That’s just what you do!  So here at Literacy Connexus, we’re celebrating you this month.  Thanks for volunteering!  You are a blessing to your community.

PS  Good news:  The list of 50 Ways is now available in Spanish.  Thank you, Texas Baptists.   Just e-mail us and we’ll send it your way.

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Fifty Ways #18 — You Can Take That to the Bank

The Book Bank, that is.  There are now three Literacy Connexus Book Banks.  One in Montgomery County (First Baptist Church Conroe), one in Parker County (Center of Hope – combining resources of 58 churches and others), and one in Tarrant County (Western Hills Baptist Church).  There are 254 counties in Texas.  Be the church in your county to begin a Book Bank (251 openings by my count).


Think of a food bank.  Resources come in.  They are processed.  They are shared.  Everyone wins.  A book banks works in a similar way.  People donate books to the book bank.  Volunteers sort them.  Then the books are shared with those who lack books.  The three book banks mentioned above primarily receive gently used children’s books, screen and sort them, and send them out the door with churches that share them through family reading fairs or other activities.  By the thousands, these books have been shared in each noted county as well as in border communities in the Books for the Border and Beyond project.

However, not all the books are for children.  In the fall BNSF Railroad in Fort Worth, share the results of a book drive with Literacy Connexus and the Tarrant Literacy Coalition.  Recently volunteers sorted those books for three units of the Presbyterian Night Shelter (in Fort Worth):  the main facility, the section for veterans and the space for women and children.  Leslie Reisdorfer—member of Western Hills Baptist Church and employee of Meridian Bank—brought the books to the homeless shelters and shared a note from Harriet at Presbyterian Night Shelter.  She noted that walking through the main shelter people were already making use of the books and several residents expressed appreciation for new books to read.

Steps in beginning a book bank at your church.

1.  Meet with your church leadership:  staff, missions committee, librarian, etc.  Explain the concept.

2.  Find a room in your church facility that could serve as a book bank.  Shelves will be needed as well as a sorting area (at least one table).  Proximity to an exit on the first floor or near an elevator will be helpful.  Enlist volunteers to help prepare the room.

3.  Advertise the need for gently used children’s books (by far the most desired items).  See the Literacy Connexus website for a flyer to use  You don’t want cast off books.  We’ve made quite a few trips to the recycle bin or Goodwill.  Use of this flyer will reduce that problem.

4.  Enlist a volunteer team to sort books.  Again, the Literacy Connexus website has guidelines for screening and sorting books.  See

Ashleigh and Kelsey

5.  A donor in your church may want to give you money to buy new books.  The Literacy Connexus website has suggestions for core books (See above).  Jo Lee of San Antonio persuaded the manager of a Half Price Books store in her city to donate several boxes of books. Promote the project, the books will come…

6.  Next the fun starts.  Share what you have received with others.  You may want to draft guidelines for this as in one book per child in the proposed project or giveaway. 

For additional help with setting up your book bank, please contact us at (817 696-9898).  In addition, please share your progress with us.  We want to partner with you to provide books.

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Fifty Ways #46 — Register Voters – especially among young adults. Elected officials pay attention to voters.

Did you vote yesterday?

According to a report last year by Enrique Rangel, Texas ranked 42nd in voter registration, 49th in the number of citizens who contact public officials and 44th in the number of people who discuss politics a few times a week or more.

Did you vote yesterday?

Yesterday’s ballot not only gave voters a voice regarding the November ballot for elected officials but the opportunity to speak up regarding a variety of referendum items including immigration reform, religious freedom, increasing the minimum wage, the second amendment, expanding Medicaid, welfare reform, non-discrimination legislation, and the affordable care act.

Will you vote in November?

vote counts

Consider a project at your church to register voters.  It’s fairly simple.  Here’s a link to the online process:

You may fill out a voter registration application online, print it and mail it to the voter registrar in your county of residence.  You are not registered until you have filled out the online application, printed it, and mailed it to your local County Voter Registrar. The County Voter Registrar’s address can be found at the top of the online outputted voter registration application once you have submitted your information from the fill-in-the blanks screen.

Will your voice be heard in November?

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50 Ways #30, Part 2 — Provide Financial Education


They brought cookies. Two representatives from a local bank came to our ESL ministry with cookies. They responded to an invitation to share how to open a checking account with the students. The students had asked for help with that.  Many lacked a bank account.  They operated in the alternative economy using check cashing services and payday lending.  Not the optimum way to do one’s banking.

So, many banks are eager to do outreach and share financial literacy materials.  And many literacy programs have taken advantage of these resources.   My first thought was to share this and encourage the use of financial literacy tools from banks as a way to meet students’ needs.  Then, I did a little research.  Just a little, but it was eye opening.

In an article last fall in the Atlantic Cities, Lisa Servon provided keen insight into why the poor use the alternative banking system.  See The Real Reason the Poor Go Without Bank Accounts.

Are check cashing services more expensive than using a bank where one has accounts?  Yes.

Is payday lending a scourge on the poor?  Yes.  But Dr. Servon helps us understand why the alternative banking system has traction.  As we seek to help our students better use their money, may we be more sensitive to their life situations.  Financial literacy resources are a good idea.  Let’s mix in more understanding of the life situations of those using the alternative banking system as we seek to help.

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50 Ways #30 — Offer specialized classes in computer proficiency and financial education

Focus on the word computer.  Expand thinking.  Think more as in broadband and computer.  We’ll get to financial education next time.

100 million Americans lack broadband at home.  Imagine that.  You are not among them.  If it’s sad (and it is) that many families lack books at home, consider life without computers.  Wait, don’t go down that road. They’re here to stay.  But consider the digital divide.  Homes lacking access to broadband often lack computers as well.  Children who lack access to computers and the internet at home are at a decided disadvantage with their peers.  Youth and adults seeking employment face a hurdle if they can’t access the internet at home.  Families in need of benefits such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or food stamps) can’t enroll at home without a computer.  It’s a big disadvantage not to have a computer and broadband at home.

computer cartoon

Good news.  Today is Digital Learning Day.  You can learn more at DIGITAL LEARNING DAY.

And you can help persons in your community cross the digital divide via a new program known as Everyone On.  See EVERYONE ON.  Help is available for those lacking technical expertise, and there are programs to assist low-income individuals with internet at reduced costs and refurbished computers.

Add computer literacy to your literacy ministry portfolio.  ESL students can extend their learning via helpful websites at home.  So many applications . . . what will you do?


Fifty Ways #40 — Collaborating and Ministering to All Kinds of Needs

Collaborate with other churches to minister to both the literacy and nutritional needs of children in the community.

Do you remember the story last summer about Agape Baptist Church in Cleburne ?  Pastor Julio Robles stepped up to the plate when he learned of an opportunity to provide breakfast and lunch for hungry children in Cleburne.  The church partnered with others to address educational and spiritual needs of children as well as the physical need for food.


The emphasis today is planning.

From a FaceBook post yesterday:   Literacy ConneXus has offered to work with Summer Meals Sponsors to get them books that they can use for activities at their summer meals sites. The goal is to create a Summer Reading Club at the meal sites, help children with their reading skills and increase program participation. Literacy ConneXus book banks provide books for programs that share books with children and youth. Thank you Literacy ConneXus for your partnership and support. If you would like to get more info please contact Marty Otero, Child Hunger Outreach Specialist at:

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The Texas Hunger Initiative  has twelve regional sites.  Literacy Connexus has three book banks.  Do the math, friends.  We need help!  More books.  More book banks.  Ten planners signed up yesterday for books in Fort Worth.  We’ll need donations by June 1. 

Confident that God will provide.


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