Literacy Connects- the Beginnings

Literacy Connects was founded in 2011 after a Tucson Regional Town Hall, hosted by the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona, identified increasing literacy levels as the single best way to ensure a prosperous economy and an improved quality of life for everyone in Tucson. Five local organizations, Literacy Volunteers of Tucson, Literacy for Life Coalition, Reading Seed, Stories that Soar!, and Reach out and Read Southern Arizona, who together represented nearly 100 years of nonprofit experience, came together to form the new organization in the hopes of shining a brighter light on the need for strong literacy programs in the community. The new name was announced at a Literacy Rally in October of that year. Betty Stauffer, then the Director of Literacy Volunteers of Tucson, became the Founding Director of Literacy Connects.

In the following sections, we'll delve deeper into the history of the five programs that came together to form Literacy Connects.

Literacy Volunteers of Tucson

Literacy Volunteers of Tucson brought a 50 year history serving adult learners in the Tucson community with a mission of transforming lives and enriching the community by teaching adults at the lowest literacy levels to read, write and speak English.

The organization served learners through basic literacy and English language acquisition programs. These classes, taught both on-site and at partner locations throughout the city, served approximately two thousand adults annually, thanks to the dedicated staff and community of volunteers.

Since the merger, Literacy Volunteers of Tucson evolved into the Adult Basic Literacy and English Language Acquisition for Adults programs at Literacy Connects. The same types of classes and tutoring are offered, but sites and partners have been widely expanded, including TUSD schools and resources centers, the Lindsey Center, and additional library sites. The ABL program has also created and grown a Spanish language program, which is now one of the most requested offerings. The volunteer community remains essential and strong, allowing the programs to reach new learners in new ways.

Literacy for Life Coalition

Literacy for Life Coalition was formed by the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona in response to the community town halls. Its mission was to create a sustainable culture of literacy in Tucson.

In 2009, the organization created two literacy zones in Tucson. Local community leaders spearheaded programming and support in two southside communities. This work, as well as other projects led by the coalition, was the catalyst for the creation of Literacy Connects.

Reading Seed

Reading Seed began in 1995 when Elizabeth Fimbres and Lita Bratt, alongside 21 volunteers, conceived of an idea for a program dedicated to instill a love of reading and books in elementary school students. The program continued to grown through TUSD and, in the 2004-2005 school year, was adopted by the Rotary Club of Tucson, who expanded the program through Pima County.

The Rotary Club of Tucson continued to grow the Reading Seed program and its community through volunteers. An office and library opened, and in 2009 the program became the beneficiary of the 1st annual Tucson Festival of Books, an organization which has continued to provide essential support to the program and Literacy Connects yearly.

Since the merger, Reading Seed has developed new models to engage with students and schools in deeper ways, including through the Kinder Project and embedded sites. Volunteer and partner growth has allowed the program to serve 30 schools annually. Last year, the Reading Seed Families program was launched to bring the same training that coaches receive to parents and caregivers to help inspire joyful literacy experiences at home.

Stories that Soar!

Stories that Soar! came to life in 2001, when Sharon O'Brien, Meg Breshears, and Sonia Teder-Moore saw a need for culturally relevant public school curriculum that could empower kids while engaging their creativity and imagination. The first stories were written and performed the next spring at Sam Hughes Elementary School. From there, the program received a research project grant to continue their work, then a McGuire Entrepreneurship award to officially launch Stories that Soar!

The program continued to grow through both school partnerships, special events, and the development of the StoryShare K-12 curriculum. They also expanded their work in the community, partnering with the University of Arizona to commemorate the Phoenix Mars Landing, working with the county to create a special show with the refugee community, and joining with the Literacy for Life Coalition to work in the newly created Literacy Zones.

Since the merger, STS! developed STS! High, STS! TV, and the Youth Center as offshoot programs to successfully expand the program's reach. The Magic Box has remained as hungry for stories as ever and eats 15,000+ stories a year. Through 2020 and 2021, STS! produced #StoriesThatStream, developing short videos from the stories submitted.

Reach out and Read Southern Arizona

Reach out and Read Southern Arizona is an affiliate of the national Reach out and Read, an organization that gives young children a foundation for success by incorporating books into pediatric care and encouraging families to read aloud together. The local affiliate was formed in 2001, and has given out approximately one million books since then!

The program is made possible by a network of clinics, pediatricians, and staff that administer the program and help get books into the hands of children and families, growing their libraries.

Since the merger, the Reach out and Read program has continued to grow and engage with clinics across Southern Arizona. More clinics have joined the Reach out and Read and Literacy Connects family, and the program has expanded to include the youngest family members.

Literacy Connects Blooms

After the merger, the organization grew in leaps and bounds and planted deep roots in the community. In 2014 Literacy Connects found a permanent home when it purchased its current campus on Yavapai Road, nestled in the heart of the Amphi District, and began renovations to make it the welcoming place for learners, volunteers, and neighbors that it is today.

2017 brought the sale of the land to the west to Habitat for Humanity for the creation of the Minton Court neighborhood, as well as a partnership with the International Rescue Committee on the Literacy Garden to the east.

The Youth Center at Literacy Connects

The final phase of renovations was completed in 2019, when the Youth Center at Literacy Connects opened its doors.

The renovations were made possible thanks to support from the Arizona Builder's Alliance and other generous donors who believe in investing in the potential of young people.

The center is now home to after school and summer programming for middle school aged youth, who learn valuable creative and team building skills in a safe space.

Literacy Connects Perseveres

Over the course of the past year and a half, Literacy Connects has had to be more flexible than ever as the world changed. All programs pivoted to digital offerings to make sure that services could still be provided to learners.

Instead of just surviving, the organization thrived, creating new programs and ways to learn to meet the needs of learners both current and new. This period saw the expansion of the Spanish language literacy and GED program, the debut of the Reading Seed Families program, and the launch of #StoriesThatStream.

2020 also brought the retirement of Betty Stauffer and the hiring of Matt Tarver-Wahlquist as the organization's second Executive Director.

The Literacy Connects Community

Literacy Connects is grateful to have an amazing community of volunteers that allow us to serve the learners that we do. We are always recruiting for dedicated and motivated volunteers to join the team! Watch the video below or click through to learn more about being a part of the Literacy Connects volunteer family.

2021- Our Next Chapter

As we enter our 10th year, we are excited to think about what the next ten will bring us. Your gifts will help us continue to tell our story.