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West CAP: Combatting Poverty with Literacy

West CAP: Combatting Poverty with Literacy

“We strive to help people become self-sufficient - starting with combatting poverty. West CAP recognized that literacy and adult education is a part of that,” stated Stephanie Stark, Program Coordinator, West CAP Literacy & Skills Enhancement Program. 

Even to access West CAP programs, clients have to fill out forms. Their clients can’t always do that because it is in the wrong language for them, they don’t quite understand all the words on the form or the digital aspect is a barrier. “If we want to help people, we need to meet them where they are at,” said Stephanie.

A small program, West CAP Literacy & Skills Enhancement Program collaborates with Northwood Technical College and now Chippewa Valley Technical College in River Falls. When people can’t attend the Technical Colleges because of their schedule, income, or simply needing more support, West CAP Literacy & Skills Enhancement Program helps them.

“We take anybody who wants help,” said Stephanie, “We jump in and will be helpers.” Most of the instruction is one-to-one, with some tutors helping more than one student.

They work with adults on basic skills and English. Students work toward better jobs or better paying jobs. Some English language learners are university graduates. They’ve helped Francisco, a master electrician from Puerto Rico, improve his English.

They’ve also helped a Northwood Technical College student on the autism spectrum improve his employability. He enrolled in a community education class for welding. A tutor from West CAP helped him with basic math skills – angles, perimeters, and other concepts related to welding. He wanted to keep working with the tutor to increase his basic skills for career goals.

West CAP provides literacy support to three counties. In some cases, tutors and learners could meet with masks in library study rooms, but each location has different rules. Sometimes when libraries were closed to the public, they still let the literacy program and tutors come in. 

“They know that libraries are community centers and wanted to help our CBO (community-based organization). Having that connection is really helpful,” shared Stephanie.

Technology like Zoom, FaceTime and WhatsApp have kept tutors and learners connected during the pandemic too. For this small program trying to support three counties, these tools will help them serve more people in the future. 

“In rural communities, I can’t have people in every single little town,” says Stephanie. “So some of those digital techniques, even if they are low tech, will help us reach more people.”

They plan to get more tutors and train them on the technology. They will hire an AmeriCorps Vista Literacy Leader this winter to help with digital equity and training.

Stephanie said:

That’s what COVID taught me – that this can work. We just need to train our tutors. And because of Wisconsin Literacy, I heard from other agencies that trained their learners too to put the Zoom app on their phones and showed them WhatsApp. Both our learners and our tutors can learn how to use some of it without having to be super wizzes about it.