News

What do church-and-school partnerships look like?

“The way to start,” suggests Literacy Connexus Executive Director, Lester Meriwether, “is to ask the school principal, ‘How may we help you?’” This approach demonstrates a servant’s heart and shows a willingness to be practical and cooperative. He adds, “There is a disconnection if churches don’t start in the local school. It’s not about coming up with programs to offer but a willingness to be used as needed.”

Learn more about the how and why of serving in our public schools. Visit the Serving the Schools Opening Doors project and click on our article, “Will You Cross the Street?”

Champion of Literacy Award Winner

Congratulations to Dr. Lester Meriwether, Literacy Connexus Executive Director. Lester was honored at the Literacy Texas Annual Conference in Austin, Texas on August 7, 2012.

Achievements cited included his creation of Books for the Border and Beyond, a project that encourages and equips parents to read to their infants and small children. Under his direction, the project has recruited hundreds of volunteers from churches across the state to help build bookcases and contribute books to some of the poorest families in Texas. Dr. Meriwether was applauded for his tireless work in guiding the development of faith-based literacy programs, an achievement for which he is recognized nationally.

We’re proud of our leader.

Champion of Literacy Award Winner Lester

RAs and GAs Build Bookcases

Girls and boys at Camp Copass, Denton, TX built 31 bookcases and donated hundreds of books for underprivileged children last week. Check out our photos!

Read With Me!

You are invited to participate in the Family Reading Fair next Thursday, May 3rd, at Western Hills Primary.

We’ll need help sharing books and bookcases with 130 families whose children make up the Pre-K classes at this school.

We also need volunteers to read to the children and help the families to navigate the experience.

We’re expecting 600 participants and will be giving away thousands of books to go in the bookcases built and painted by volunteers.

You can help or just observe. Either way, we’ll be glad to see you!

We’re asking volunteers/observers to arrive by 4:00 pm.

Contact us with any questions.

We’re looking forward to seeing you!

Click here to RSVP so that we can prepare a name tag for you.

Building Bookcases in Corpus Christi–WMU Annual Meeting

Investing in the Process

Perhaps the word literacy on the receipt caught her eye.  After I explained to the clerk that my work is to help churches help persons with literacy needs, she said, “My husband can’t read.” I offered help. Thus began a two-and-a-half year journey through the Laubach Way to Reading.

I had been a promoter. A trainer. A minister encouraging churches to help people with literacy needs. Now I was challenged with the opportunity to slow down the travel and invest in the process.  My territory was merely the states west of the Mississippi River and Western Canada. Could I commit to meeting with an adult student once or twice a week? Could I trade breadth for depth?

My student was a disabled sixty-two year old who often took phone messages at home for his wife. But take them was all he did. He couldn’t write them. And he couldn’t read his Bible or the newspaper. But he was willing to try. And so was I.

“This is a bird with a long tail and a round body. This looks like a bird with a long tail and a round body. Say ‘B.’” Slowly we progressed through the consonants, then the vowels. I was amazed that an adult would really be interested in the stories in the little green, yellow, and blue books. My student read them carefully and deliberately. Then verses and chapters in his Bible. And then newspaper articles.

He wasn’t the only one who was learning. He was thirty years older than me. He had raised a family. Fought in a war. Worked on an assembly line. He was a teacher, too.

I still promote and train. And travel as a minister encouraging churches to help. My calling as a minister is not the traditional one. I am opening this window for you to better understand the connection between and literacy initiatives. We need each other. We need to work together.

It’s estimated that 3.8 million adults in Texas lack sufficient literacy skills. Texas LEARNS estimates that 100,000-plus are currently served through state and federally-funded adult education in Texas. No one knows how many are served through other programs (including faith-based). Probably all told under 200,000.

I’m convinced that people of faith are a great untapped resource for literacy programs across Texas. I’m convinced that there are dozens of ways churches can help people with literacy needs. Teaching basic literacy and ESL, yes. But also by providing books to children in support of family literacy. And mentoring in schools makes a difference, too. I also believe that advocating on behalf of education at the federal, state, and local levels is needed.

Volunteer Job Openings

Literacy Connexus is looking for a few good men or women. If you are familiar with our Newsletter, you know that we would love for you to join us in this ministry. We have three volunteer positions to fill, each allowing for flexibility of time and commitment. Prayerfully consider which position is right for you. Contact Lester, 817-696-9898.

1)      Book Finder

Do you have a nose for finding things? Literacy Connexus is always in need of children’s books to give to families in need. This volunteer position involves scouring the internet for organizations with books to give away, following leads on book give-aways, and soliciting book contributions from agencies, businesses, and individuals. In general, you would be a children’s book sleuth, tracking every lead and sniffing every trail. You would unearth the book bonanzas of Texas, giving Literacy Connexus the opportunity to share the wealth.

Qualifications:  Effective computer search skills; clear communicator by telephone and email; thrive on challenges.

Commitment:  Minimum of 4 hours/week.

 

2)      Development Director

Are you a fundraiser at heart? This volunteer position involves collaborating with the executive director to design and implement a development strategy for Literacy Connexus, in order to achieve fundraising goals and engage donors. You would lead and manage development efforts to raise the annual budget.  You would engage the board of directors, and train and lead fellow staff members to support fundraising efforts. Writing grant proposals and reports to funders is a major component of this job.

Qualifications:  High energy, positive, “can-do” attitude, flexibility, and teamwork; high degree of initiative and the ability to think strategically. Strong verbal communication skills and demonstrated ability to write clearly and persuasively, with attention to detail. Grant writing experience is recommended; a thorough understanding of strategic development is a must.

Commitment:  Minimum of 6 hour/week.

 

3)       Project Manager

Do you love it when a plan comes together? This volunteer position involves dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s of Books for the Border and Beyond projects-in-the-making throughout Texas. As churches and groups navigate from the planning phase to hosting a family reading fair and submitting their follow-up reports, your job would be to answer their questions, ask a few of your own for our records, and ensure that they receive the materials we provide for each project in a timely manner. You would be the Literacy Connexus liaison, with the backing of the rest of the staff.

Qualifications:  Friendly; clear communicator by telephone and email; problem solver.

Commitment: Minimum of 4 hours/week.

 

Moving Toward a Library in Every Home

More than 1,200 families have received beginning home libraries in the past five years through church-based family reading fairs under the Books for the Border banner.  Books for the Border began in seven Texas counties identified as among the twenty poorest counties in the United States.

Books for the Border is now in phase two:  Books for the Border and Beyond.  Following Together for Hope’s Objective Two:

Churches, organizations, mission groups, and individual volunteers who participate in TFH efforts in the focal counties will gain a greater awareness of our biblical mandate with the poor and will be able and willing to implement what they have learned with the poor in their home communities.   (www.ruralpoverty.net)

Family reading fairs have been hosted in a variety of such communities beyond the Texas-Mexico Border, including Amarillo, Dallas, Joshua, Lubbock, and San Antonio.  Others are planned for Copperas Cove, Corpus Christi and Fort Worth this year.

A reading fair in your community would involve identifying families in your community, getting a bookshelf pattern from Literacy ConneXus, building them, collecting and buying age appropriate books and holding the actual fair to distribute the books and bookcases.  A project outline is available in the Books for the Border Planning Guide.

Significantly, literacy projects including books and bookcases or bookshelves have been held in other Together for Hope venues in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

But what happened recently causes me to try to capture my thoughts now.  Karen Morrow – CBF missionary to refugees in Texas – and I sat with three Karen refugees and three members of Agape Baptist Church in Fort Worth looking for common ground between the real need for language skills of children entering kindergarten in American schools and the linguistic heritage and skills of that ethnic group.  (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karen_people)

Karen and I have both just completed reading When Helping Hurts (http://www.whenhelpinghurts.org/). Chapter Five provides an excellent explanation of asset mapping.  Implementing this idea, beginning with recognition of the gifts and talents of the group, was a challenge with language differences–to say nothing of cultural differences.  We were wondering how home libraries (ala Books for the Border) might fit in the context of Karen families living in Texas.  We did not leave with clarity so much as commitment to begin with what we learned of the desire of these brave people to preserve their language while gaining English.  We will walk with them to discover how to use the Karen love for their children and the valuable gifts of volunteers who stretch to help in ways that do not hurt.

Literacy Connexus seeks to work with those who recognize the value of placing libraries in every home—especially for those living in poverty.  Children who are read to, who see their parents reading, and who grow up in homes with books are more ready for kindergarten.   What about your community?

A workshop session entitled A Library in Every Home will be offered at the Metroplex Literacy Conference in Dallas March 10 (See http://hopeliteracy.com/).  For additional information about ways to encourage and equip ESL students to read to their children, contact Lester Meriwether,  817-696-9898/Lester@literacyconnexus.org.

Now That I’ve Grown Up

I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but when the time arrived, I set my sights on Army Officer Candidate School. On my application, I stated that it was important to me to fully believe in the organization I worked for, and to participate in activities that would be not only meaningful to me but would have a big impact on others and my country.

Fairly lofty conditions, considering the ink had barely dried on my college diploma and my only previous job experience had been at Winchell’s Donuts and A&W Root Beer. The Army showed me who was boss, though; I got commissioned, but in total disregard of my hard-earned journalism degree, they pronounced me a petroleum officer.

I’ve been thinking a lot about those Army days recently, probably because in the past year, my life has made another unexpected and dramatic about face. It started with a simple prayer prior to the 2010 Morning of Missions activity at the Texas Baptists Annual Meeting in McAllen: Let my morning’s involvement have an impact on others and myself that will last long beyond this day.

I ended up at a Books for the Border family reading fair and witnessed beginning home libraries—Bibles, health literacy books, story books, and bookcases—being given to families living in poverty. I met Literacy Connexus executive director and founder of Books for the Border, Lester Meriwether, who, after a moment’s introduction, asked if I would be interested in writing the planning guide for his ministry. Yes, Sir! Never had I been so certain of God’s immediate answer to prayer.

My biggest obstacles in attacking this assignment were knowing nothing about Books for the Border except for what I had seen that morning, and knowing even less about literacy missions ministry as a whole. But Lester was a veteran, and with his leadership–and a frontal assault on the internet–I managed to gain steady ground over the next couple of months.

I found a barrage of evidence pointing to the need for literacy ministry. More than 3.8 million adults in Texas possess a level of literacy inadequate to earn a sustainable living. Families in poverty often remain stuck, generation after generation, because homes without books produce kids who can’t read. If a child has scarcely, or never, been read to prior to kindergarten, he will likely start school behind his peers and lag even farther as time goes on. Kids in poverty often find themselves on a trajectory toward high school dropout, unemployment, crime, and lifelong struggle.

But there is a war being waged against illiteracy as a root cause of poverty, and as I became indoctrinated to the strategies employed by those on mission, I knew I wanted to enlist. I learned that effective ministry involves recognizing the gifts of every person and the assets of every community, and then using those strengths as a starting point. Effective ministry means understanding that all people are loved and gifted by God. With sensitivity and collaboration, we come alongside of those in need and work with them, not for them, to shore up their flanks. The results are sustainable solutions that will annihilate the cycle of generational poverty.

My tour of duty with Literacy Connexus has put me on soldierly alert to the pervasiveness of poverty and to the work to be done. I can see how my experiences in the military, raising a family, and serving in my church and community all combine to give me the skills needed to help me do this job. It’s exciting to me that God gives us the experience long before we know what it’s for, and the awareness and the passion at just the right time—and at Literacy Connexus, a generous dose of esprit de corps on top of everything!

God knew exactly what I would want to do when I grew up. And He had in mind for me the very things I mentioned on my OCS application—an organization I could believe in, meaningful activities, and the opportunity to impact others. The U.S. Army was merely the warm-up.