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Reading Works

Statistics show that functional illiteracy among southeast Michigan adults is significant, from 13 to 15 percent in Oakland and Macomb counties to 36 percent in Wayne County. Reading Works partners with other nonprofits to help adults reach a minimum ninth-grade level of literacy, thus allowing them to improve their economic status, participate equally in community growth, and improve literacy skills for children within the home.  
Michigan Nightlight: What really differentiates this program?
Reading Works Executive Director Paula Brown: Reading Works has established itself as a backbone agency whose purpose is to support a collective effort with existing literacy providers to deliver quality programs with the common agenda of bringing all metro Detroit adults to a minimum ninth grade reading level. This means Reading Works provides needed support, such as training, funding, advocacy, and recruitment tools in exchange for common data measurement to ensure progress toward our goals.
By serving as a backbone agency, we are using a true collective model that is aligning resources around improving adult literacy in our community.  We uniquely enjoy tremendous support from our media partners who help us build awareness and recruit volunteers and learners toward our goals:  Detroit Free Press, Detroit Media Partnership, The Michigan
Adult literacy is complex and is often about more than just learning to read.
Chronicle, WXYZ-TV Channel 7, WDET-Public Radio 101.9 FM, News/Talk 760 WJR, and Clear Channel, among others.
What are the keys to success for your program?
Our success is a combination of partners who are providing top-quality literacy programs with proven success; dedicated volunteer members of the Reading Works board who are committed to providing resources needed to support this mission; generous donors; and hundreds of volunteer tutors who provide direct support to those needing our programs.
What existing challenges remain with this program and how do you plan to overcome them?
Adult literacy is complex and is often about more than just learning to read. There may be undiagnosed learning disabilities or English may not be their first language. The learners may be hiding their reading issues from their family and employers and are afraid to come forward. Many live in poverty and have chaotic, transient lives that make it hard to stick with a literacy program that will take months, possibly years to complete successfully.
These are issues we study together to find ways to overcome these obstacles, as well as to scale in a way that will reach thousands of adult learners, not just hundreds. This includes researching curricula that may progress faster for the adult learner or having funds available for one-time obstacles, such as glasses or car repairs.
How does your program address issues of equity?
The human and economic costs of illiteracy are very high. Individuals who are not able to read are extremely limited in their
This is one of the few areas where you start at the end and work back � by assuring the adults in the home are strong readers, you will improve the outlook for the children in the home.
work options, will struggle to manage their household and healthcare, and will negatively impact their children’s literacy levels.
All our literacy partners are nonprofit organizations that provide their programs to anyone requesting assistance at no cost. They are located within the city of Detroit, as well as in our suburbs where these programs are most needed. We also recruit volunteer tutors from the entire community for greater diversity.
Even though you work with adults, how does your program help to create systemic change for children? 
More and more, statistics are showing that children from literacy-poor homes are less likely to reach literacy levels needed for a successful transition from high school to higher education and job training. This is one of the few areas where you start at the end and work back – by assuring the adults in the home are strong readers, you will improve the outlook for the children in the home. There are many programs for children, who are also still in school. That’s why the Reading Works focus on adults is vital to transforming literacy in our community.
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Person Profile

  • Paula Brown
    Building stronger communities through literacy


  • Reading Works
    Reading Works is dedicated to raising the level of literacy in Metropolitan Detroit and promoting the idea that reading works – in the family and in the workplace.


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