Finding Inspiration with Faces and Facts

Written by Amy Letteney, First Literacy Development Manager

finding inspiration faces and facts first literacy blogIn the nonprofit world, inspiration is essential. The size of the issues we address can be overwhelming, but the faces and facts can help us keep going during challenging times and can create a connection with those whose generosity is essential to our organizations.

According to the report New Skills for a New Economy, more than 1.1 million workers in the Commonwealth lack basic skills and 32% are at basic or below basic skill levels for searching, comprehending and using information from written materials. This is a staggering number, but at First Literacy we focus on the progress we’ve made, our continuing investments in adults with low literacy, and the programs we offer to further the educational development of adult learners.

The facts and, more importantly, the faces behind these facts inspire us to do more each day.

Scholarships and a Scholar

Since 1990, First Literacy has provided more than 500 individual scholarships to adult learners pursuing a higher education degree or certificate; and in the past year we expanded our scholarships, offering larger awards to more students. While these numbers speak volumes, each of the adult learners who are awarded a scholarship have an amazing story – proof that our work changes lives.

vitalis scholar with college award first literacy blog

Vitalis with 2022 William M. Plater Civic Engagement Medallion. One of the highest honors a student can be awarded at Indiana University.

For instance, Vitalis is a First Literacy scholar from Nigeria. When he arrived in the U.S. in 2009, he did not speak English and was unable to access any of his educational records from his home country. Vitalis was determined to overcome these obstacles. He worked hard to learn English and pass the GED. In 2011 Vitalis was awarded a scholarship from First Literacy which provided some of the funds needed to attend Northeastern University. Vitalis graduated in 2014 and for three years studied and applied to medical school. His persistence was rewarded; this spring he is graduating from Indiana University with an MD and MPH. While pursuing his degrees Vitalis also founded a nonprofit called “Vital Feeling Project”, which works to destigmatize mental illness in minority populations. Vitalis credits First Literacy with helping him move forward with his educational journey and said …

“I don’t like the word ‘failure’, instead I use ‘challenge’. Through struggles we find and develop skills and challenges offer us the opportunity to learn.”

We thank Vitalis for his inspiring words.

Professional Development and Adult Educators

In the last five years, the First Literacy professional development program has provided more than 1,000 adult educators with free training and the potential to positively impact 34,000 adult students enrolled in their programs throughout Massachusetts.

The testimonials alongside the results of recent participant surveys connects donors and funders to the power of the Professional Development program.

Anna is an ESOL teacher who attended multiple First Literacy professional development workshops and speaks glowingly of the impact the workshops have on adult educators and adult learners.

“I really enjoy attending the First Literacy workshops for the interesting topics and the quality of the professional development. I always learn something new and valuable that I can use in teaching my students. Implementing best practices in my classroom helps me to improve my students’ academic performance and therefore real-world readiness and success whether that be work or career, vocational or community college related. The workshops offered by First Literacy are ideal for the ESOL instructor who deals with pre-HiSet students for they emphasize strategies and activities dealing with a variety of topics such as promoting student attendance and persistence, improving student speech and pronunciation, integrating math into the ESOL curriculum, preparing for HiSet as well as college and career readiness.”

Recent workshop participant surveys also provide compelling data indicating that 95% of participants found workshop content relevant and impactful to their teaching, 80% reported improvement in their teaching, and 60% reported student gains.

One Grant Among Many

First Literacy has been providing grants to Adult Basic Education programs since 1988, awarding funds to support pilot programs and organization-wide initiatives that, if successful, can be replicated. Since 2014, more than $300,000 has been invested in innovative ideas with the potential to impact adult students across Massachusetts.

In 2022 First Literacy awarded a grant to the Charlestown Adult Education Youth Re-Entry Program. The program addresses some astounding research indicating that 75% of state incarcerated individuals do not complete high school or can be classified as low literate. The research also reveals that if incarcerated individuals participate in educational programs, they are 43% less likely to recidivate.

youth reentry program Tony and Jashaun first literacy blog

Tony and Jashaun with classmates.

The issue is overwhelming, and the solution is difficult to pinpoint, however First Literacy identified a re-entry program that supports recently incarcerated individuals, encouraging them to grow educationally and to address emotional issues that may impede their progress. The program focuses on a comprehensive, needs-based approach, in collaboration with correction officials, who turn to the program for both internship opportunities and its broad range of support.

While the impact data is impressive, participants of the First Literacy grant-funded program have progressed both personally, academically, and professionally. Tony and Jashaun (pictured) recently passed their high school equivalency test (HiSET). Both young adults were incarcerated and once released from prison they did not have support until they found the Charlestown Adult Education Youth Re-Entry Program. Education gives Tony and Jashaun a second chance, and an improved likelihood of reaching their personal goals.

Inspiration Found

At First Literacy we know that education can change everything, from earning potential to recidivism rates. The balance of the faces and the facts behind our mission inspires us every day to continue our work and provide compelling stories that connect donors and funders to our cause.

What inspires you to support First Literacy? To continue the conversation follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter or contact Amy Letteney,

If you’re feeling inspired, please share these facts and faces with others and consider donating to support our cause.



May 19, 2022

Sign Up to Receive First Literacy Emails

You have successfully subscribed to the newsletter

There was an error while trying to send your request. Please try again.

First Literacy will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing.