615 W. Lafayette Blvd.
Detroit, Michigan 48226
Paula Brown is excited to be the new executive director of Reading Works, an umbrella organization that provides resources to partner nonprofits that are delivering quality literacy programs in metro Detroit. She works with these partners to reach more adult learners and to accurately measure and report on their collective success, with a common goal of bringing every adult up to a minimum ninth grade reading level.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Reading Works Executive Director Paula Brown
: To me, being a leader is bringing the right people together, providing a strong structure with attainable goals, and creating an environment for those on the team who have valuable assets – knowledge, experience, creativity – to create the plan for success. Then a good leader must take responsibility for the success of this plan, making sure everyone has what they need to be successful, including mentoring individual team members, removing obstacles, keeping the team on track, and celebrating each success.
What is your dream for kids?
My dream is that every child starts life equally, with equal access to good prenatal care, nutrition, safety, health care, education, and early developmental activities and programs, and that this continues throughout high school so that every
When working on something so big as regional adult literacy, I still celebrate the individuals who bravely came forward to ask for help and who are now moving on to get their GEDs, registering to vote, becoming U.S. citizens.
student graduates from high school at the 12th
grade reading and learning level. If this dream came true, this would solve so many, many issues we struggle with today.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
I feel strongly about two things. First, we in the social sector need to work together in a very real, measurable way when we are working on solving the same problem. Second, before you start another nonprofit, try first to work through agencies already working on that problem for greater impact without adding unnecessary administrative costs.
This is what attracted me to Reading Works. The founders could see the huge issue of adult literacy in our community, but instead of creating another organization delivering literacy programs, they created Reading Works to be a backbone for area literacy providers. So our only purpose is to support these great agencies in the good work they’re doing. This means providing the resources they need to deliver quality programs and reach more adult learners, measuring and reporting our collective success, with a common goal of bringing every adult up to a minimum ninth grade reading level.
How do you know you’re making progress?
At Reading Works, we’re just getting started, but our progress is reflected in the work of our partner literacy providers, which have agreed to a common goal and are thinking about success in the same way. We have worked together to create a Reading Works Community Database to collect and record the data that truly shows our success. As we bring on more and more partners to Reading Works, tracking and providing this data will be a key commitment from each partner so we can ensure our collective work is moving individuals to a minimum ninth grade reading level.
What are you most proud of?
When working on something so big as regional adult literacy, I still celebrate the individuals who bravely came forward to ask for help and who are now moving on to get their GEDs, registering to vote, becoming U.S. citizens. I am also very proud of our partners and the work they’ve done to come together and create the Reading Works Community Database and their enthusiasm for being part of a larger effort to reduce adult illiteracy.
The scale of adult illiteracy is so large, and it has such impact on the next generation, I feel a great urgency to reach as many as possible through Reading Works.
This appeals to the former teacher in me – I feel my greatest professional satisfaction is in developing the potential of others. This includes mentoring new nonprofit professionals and my staff, helping volunteer board members become effective nonprofit leaders, and, of course, the success of the people served by the organizations for which I work.
What keeps you awake at night?
The scale of adult illiteracy is so large, and it has such impact on the next generation, I feel a great urgency to reach as many as possible through Reading Works. So I lay awake thinking about how we can bring the community together around this issue so that we can combine our resources in order to economically and practically reach as many adult learners as possible. I’d love to reach all 400,000 estimated adults needing literacy training in metro Detroit. It’s possible if everyone – literacy providers, schools, businesses concerned with a qualified workforce, donors and policy makers – pulls together.