The success stories built over four decades at The Literacy Center in Allentown show that for those with a will to improve their English-speaking skills or earn a diploma, there is a way to make it happen.
The organization, created by a group of Allentown residents, has helped more than 28,000 people learn and refine their English-speaking skills, earn high school equivalency diplomas and improve their job prospects. The non-profit organization has served adult students representing 52 countries and speaking 27 languages.
The center is one of many organizations that benefit from the $2 million donated annually to nonprofit groups by the PPL Foundation to improve education, develop future workers and revitalize communities.
And their work is far from over, with an always-growing list of people waiting for its services. Each year, approximately 1,000 people seek out education services from the organization.
“There’s a lot in what we do that’s very gratifying,” said Kelly Gallagher, a student support coordinator. “It’s pretty amazing to watch someone come through the door when you first meet them and they’re terrified to speak English with you. It’s amazing to watch them grow and develop their skills and confidence.”
Take Marco Calderon, for example. He arrived in the Lehigh Valley from Mexico ten years ago after meeting his wife in Mexico while she was vacationing there.
“My English was terrible,” said Calderon. “I couldn’t ask how much something cost. I really struggled.”
Today, Calderon is the proud owner of a photography business. (His clients include PPL.) He says that never would have happened without the time he spent with his teachers at the center.
“I learned grammar and got an opportunity to have conversations without feeling like I was being judged,” said Calderon, who is now on the group’s board of directors. “Without them, I wouldn’t have the business that I have now.”
The center, originally known as the Allentown Literacy Council, was started by a group of four people in donated space with funding provided by the Allentown Area Lutheran Synod. The group originally began teaching English to adults.
Eventually, the organization grew to the point of offering classes for adults looking to learn English as a second language or earn their high school equivalency diploma. Today, the group meets the needs of a significant number of immigrants and refugees.
This year, the organization held its first job fair, which featured 20 employers and training partners. More than 100 job seekers showed up to the event.
“The Literacy Center provides a very significant service to so many people in the Lehigh Valley, and its mission fits in well with PPL’s goal of helping to improve the education and development of people in the areas we serve,” said Carol Obando-Derstine, regional affairs director at PPL Electric Utilities. “We’re proud to have a role in helping the Literacy Center meet our community’s needs.”
For more information on The Literacy Center, visit www.theliteracycenter-lv.org.
Pictured below: Nancy Hamlin (standing), a volunteer classroom assistant at The Literacy Center in Allentown, helps students enrolled in the organization’s English as a Second Language class.