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Sawyer County Empowers Inmates through Literacy

Sawyer County Empowers Inmates through Literacy

Sawyer County Literacy Council (SCLC) boasts a flexible and innovative approach to literacy education. SCLC is committed to literally meeting students where they are at. One example of this is their partnership with Sawyer County Jail - a collaboration that took about 1.5 years to establish and has been ongoing since 2016.

Inside the confines of the jail, SCLC tutors provide students with a myriad of resources, including career exploration, job-seeking guidance, GED/HSED programs, and individualized support. The emphasis, however, is on encouragement, as stated by SCLC Executive Director, Deb Helquist: "Our main goal is to encourage. We want to encourage the women to be the best they can be. Their goals change. We go with that."

This encouragement takes various forms, from gratitude journals and exercise routines to family literacy initiatives. SCLC even brings in requested books, including Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) textbooks. The partnership extends beyond the classroom walls, as SCLC collaborates with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) to support the students upon their release.

Success stories often emerge from challenging circumstances. Earlier this year, Sawyer County Jail faced a shortage of female jailors. Compounding the issue, the Council received notice that female individuals would be relocated to Barron County Jail. This relocation, occurring in mid-October, left the SCLC working with a dozen women without clarity on when they would return.

Encouraged by Wisconsin Literacy Regional Literacy Consultant Shannon Mason Young, Deb explored the possibility of extending their literacy efforts to the Barron County Justice Center. Despite a long and complicated application process, the team gained access on April 25th and tutored at the new location from April through August.

Working through the summer, the tutors met with Barron County students. This allowed six women to continue their HSED journey. Despite some unexpected releases, the support from Wisconsin Literacy proved invaluable, providing essential materials, textbooks, and online resources for Deb and her team. As Deb notes, "Wisconsin Literacy is the bedrock of what we do."

Prospective tutors considering involvement with jail literacy programs are encouraged to take the plunge. The rewards are not only evident in the growth of the students but also in the personal fulfillment of the tutors. As Deb says, "You will be blown away when you see the potential.”