Literacy Volunteers Making Difference

OSWEGO, NY – For the past 50 years Literacy Volunteers has been an invaluable resource for Oswego County residents looking to improve the quality of their lives. Providing quality tutoring in reading and writing through an eighth grade level, financial and health literacy, English speaking skills, and basic math and computer skills, Literacy Volunteers has had a profoundly positive impact on the lives of hundreds of individuals and families who have accessed its services.

" data-medium-file="" data-large-file="" class="size-medium wp-image-151297" src="" alt="Gary Irland (left) a tutor with Literacy Volunteers meets with his student Ed Babb to discuss the book they are currently reading. Through the Literacy Volunteers program Babb is working on improving his reading and comprehension skills." width="300" height="271" srcset=" 300w, 150w, 460w, 331w, 1000w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />
Gary Irland (left) a tutor with Literacy Volunteers meets with his student Ed Babb to discuss the book they are currently reading. Through the Literacy Volunteers program Babb is working on improving his reading and comprehension skills.

Literacy Volunteers tutor Gary Irland has seen first-hand the effectiveness of Literacy Volunteers and the benefits the program offers. A retired teacher who previously taught in the Cato, Wolcott, and North Rose school districts, Irland has been involved with Literacy Volunteers in different capacities for the past twenty years. The past three years he has served as a tutor, a role that he enjoys and looks forward to.

“When I retired I wanted to get involved with community volunteering. My knowledge of the program, my background in teaching and my familiarity with the staff made Literacy Volunteers the perfect match for me,” said Irland.

While his past experiences as a teacher proved helpful, Irland said that the training and support that tutors receive from Literacy Volunteers coordinator Meg Henderson and the program’s staff made it very easy to begin his role as a tutor.

“From regular assessments to references and resources, Meg ensures that we have what we need to be successful,” added Irland.

When community members choose to access Literacy Volunteers services they meet with a staff member to assess their current reading level, determine what their goals are, and pair them with a tutor that will help them achieve their goals. While students’ goals can vary from increasing literacy skills in preparation for seeking employment and/or a High School Equivalency diploma, to increased reading comprehension and conversational skills, like Ed Babb who looking to increase skills for the sheer enjoyment of leisure reading.

Irland began tutoring Babb last fall.

While he enjoyed reading magazines he wanted to feel comfortable reading books.

“When Meg and I met with Ed it was clear that he liked to read but found that books could be intimidating. We determined that Ed’s goals were to increase his reading comprehension, and his vocabulary so that he would be more confident in his reading abilities,” said Irland.

Once the goals were established Irland chose a book that matched Ed’s interests and the two began meeting weekly at the Hannibal Public Library.

“We read one chapter at a time with extended learning assignments between tutoring sessions,” said Irland. “When we meet we discuss what took place in that chapter. To assist in Ed’s comprehension level and expand his vocabulary I have him compile a list of any words he is unfamiliar with. We then discuss the meaning of the words and the context in which they are used in the story.”

Nine months into the program Ed has noticed an improvement in his reading ability and is enjoying his experience with Literacy Volunteers.

“Gary has been very helpful,” said Babb. “I like the books and he’s made it easier for me to read. I really enjoy it.”

To ensure that Babb and other students in the program achieve their literacy goals Henderson meets with tutors and their students regularly to assess the improvement of the student and the effectiveness of the pairing.

“One of the aspects of Literacy Volunteers that makes it so successful is the way in which we pair our tutors with students. We strive to make a match based on likes, dislikes and personalities.  It makes for a better experience for the students and the tutors,” explained Henderson.

“The ability to read sufficiently is fundamental to the success of anything in life,” Henderson added. “Students in the Literacy Volunteers program have come to us for a variety of reasons. For some the goal may be achieving employment, or obtaining the literacy skills to enroll in an Adult Education High School Equivalency Program. For others it’s being able to read for self-sufficiency such as prescription bottles, bills, road signs, menus, receipts, applications, exam for learner’s driving permit, and work memos and/or employee forms. Others become more involved in their children’s education and enjoy reading to their children.”

Irland echoed those sentiments and has found that helping his students achieve their literacy goals and witnessing the effect that has on their quality of life makes his experience as a tutor a very rewarding one.

“The ability read is a vital skill. The non-judgmental approach and the rapport we develop with our students makes for a relaxed, welcoming environment that is conducive to learning and engages the students. I find that as a tutor it is rewarding to know that I am not only providing value to my students I am gaining from the experience as well. I enjoy reading the books and it makes me feel good to know that I am doing something helpful,’ said Irland.

Operating under the auspices of Oswego County Opportunities, Literacy Volunteers provides free confidential tutoring services that include:

Basic Literacy: Students 16 and older are matched with a tutor who utilizes LVOC resources to ensure that the student will be able to read at or above an eighth grade level. LVOC also offers help with writing and simple math skills.

English Literacy: Students 16 and older are matched with a tutor who will help them improve their English speaking, reading and writing skills along with some simple math skills.

Computer Literacy: Those already working with a LVOC tutor can be taught basic computer skills using computer stations in the LVOC office.

From July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2014, Literacy Volunteers served 64 people, 35 students significantly increased their reading levels, 35 volunteers tutored, 13 students successfully completed the program, nine students gained employment, 31 students retained their jobs, 1096 tutoring sessions occurred totaling 3,040 tutoring hours, and 22 new students were added to the Literacy Volunteers Program.

To accommodate the increased number of students Literacy Volunteers is currently recruiting additional tutors.

“We greatly appreciate our volunteer tutors and are always willing to accept new volunteers. No previous experience is required. The only requirements are that you must complete the required tutor training provided by Literacy Volunteers, be 18 years old, have a high school diploma or HSE diploma and be able to read at a 12th grade level. Our tutors receive a three-hour orientation and a nine-hour training course prior to tutoring. We provide ongoing support as we prepare the Individualized Learning Plans for their students and tutor in-services and refresher courses are offered throughout the year,” said Henderson.

For more information on accessing the services of Literacy Volunteers of Oswego County or becoming a volunteer, contact Henderson at 315-342-8839, via email at [email protected], or visit

Literacy Volunteers is a member agency of United Way of Greater Oswego County.