If you had to describe Literacy Network’s headquarters for most of its 42-year history, and if you were being nice about it, you’d probably say that it was “cozy” or “quaint.” But most people felt that the former cheese shop on Park St. was old, cramped, undignified, and unacceptable for the tutors and adult learners that crammed into the space.

Literacy Network’s new learning center in the heart of Madison’s south side – in close proximity to the Urban League of Greater Madison, the South Madison Library, and Access Community Health – has been a dream come true. It’s more than three times as big as the old space with large classrooms, private tutoring spaces, a library, and a dedicated child care space. It also has sufficient space to grow, ensuring the inclusion of top-quality 上門補習 services.

The official move happened on Sept. 12, and on Oct. 26, Literacy Network hosted its grand opening packed with 150 friends celebrating the new building at 701 Dane Street.

At the Literacy Network Open House: (L-r) Mark Fraire, Shiva Bidar, Jeff Burkhart, Joe Parisi and Keetra Burnette
At the Literacy Network Open House: (L-r) Mark Fraire, Shiva Bidar, Jeff Burkhart, Joe Parisi and Keetra Burnette

“This is our first semester at the new building and the place was totally filled up and the lobby was packed on registration day,” Literacy Network Executive Director Jeff Burkhart tells Madison365. “All of the tutoring spaces were filled, too. I remember saying at the time, ‘We need to get a new building!’

Burkhart, of course, was joking. He is among the many very happy Literacy Network employees who are pleased to have moved into the modern building in the heart of Madison’s south side after being in a cramped space for so long.

“People are just loving it. It’s really bright and colorful. It feels very welcoming. It’s a real learning center. And … it’s not a former cheese shop,” Burkhart laughs. “Our goal was to make it feel welcoming and open and have adequate classroom space and I think they did a great job.”

There are plenty of books at the new Literacy Network building.
There are plenty of books at the new Literacy Network building.

Many southsiders will remember it as the old Wingra Family Medical Center. From the outside, it looks pretty much the same. But from the inside, walls have been taken down and the whole place has been given a modern look.

In the old place, if Literacy Network had 20 people in a classroom, there would be people who would have to be standing up. There just wasn’t enough room. That’s not a problem anymore. “It’s good for everybody. The students feel welcomed. The tutors like it,” Burkhart says. “It’s funny to watch the new tutors start and they are like, ‘Yeah. This place is nice’ and then we have people who used to tutor at the old place and they are like, ‘Wow! This place is amazing!’”

On the night of the grand opening, adult learners shared their stories of success at Literacy Network. Dane County Executive Joe Parisi talked about why everyone deserves to have access to the ability to succeed and Madison College President Jack Daniels III talked about the great value of our partnership to help adults graduate and go on to a successful career.

Literacy Network’s board member Diana Tatili welcomes the capacity crowd to the Open House.
Literacy Network’s board member Diana Tatili welcomes the capacity crowd to the Open House.

Literacy Network is a non-profit organization founded in 1974 that teaches reading, writing and speaking skills to Dane County adults so they can achieve financial independence, good health, and greater involvement in community life. They work with teachers, tutors, volunteers and donors to improve adult literacy in Dane County. Their programs help adults find career opportunities, read with children and help with homework, improve computer skills, understand finances, and speak with doctors about health concerns.

“Every day we see light bulbs go on and people feel very supported and motivated. So, we want to do more of that,” Burkhart says. “We know that 55,000 adults in Dane County struggle with literacy whether they’re English language learners or struggle with reading and writing skills. We serve about 1,000 people every year, so we know that there is a lot of room for us to grow.”

Literacy Network offers programs specifically tailored to the needs, goals, and different learning styles of the individual adult learners.

“Our tutoring program is very goal-oriented and all of the individual lessons are planned around those specific goals that a person comes in with,” Burkhart says. “I think that’s what sets us apart from other organizations – we’re very much about providing specific one-on-one instruction based on the goals of the learner. We know that it is helping tremendously.”

Literacy Network's new building
Literacy Network’s new building

Many partnerships help people get the help that they need beyond literacy. “We’re well connected in the community. We’re certainly always trying to learn more about what other organizations are doing. We collaborate quite well with other organizations. We want to continue to have the community collaborations.”

Literacy Network has programs in 28 different locations throughout the Madison area. Currently, Literacy Network has 730 people enrolled in programs throughout Dane County with 115 people on a waiting list. “We’re seeing great results from our individual tutoring program. I’d like to replicate that and build on the successes that we’ve seen,” Burkhart says. “We now have 12 English language tutoring programs and five adult basic education programs. I would love to continue to grow both of those because we do have waiting lists for both programs.”

That’s been part of their ongoing Capital Campaign which was to not only increase the capacity for the building but also for the organization to serve more people.

“Our goal for the Capital Campaign is $3 million; we’ve raised $1.8 million in gifts and pledges so far,” Burkhart says. “So, we have a ways to go.”

At the grand opening event, Literacy Network also announced a $250,000 challenge to the community by the Goodman Foundation, Madison Community Foundation, US Bank, Tom Terry, Bea and Lau Christensen, Findorff, Dave and Terri Beck-Engel, and Fred and Nancy Gants. “They will match dollar for dollar everything we raise up to Jan. 31 up to $250,000,” Burkhart says. “So that’s awesome.”
Literacy Network is always looking for volunteers. “We’re seeing a really good retention rate among our volunteers. We ask our volunteers to stay with us for a semester – 15 weeks. Most of them are staying for two or three semesters and some for a much longer period of time,” Burkhart says. “Volunteers have been giving more of their time, too. In 2015, we had 100 fewer volunteers but we had the same number of volunteer hours of 2014. That means that people are staying with us and providing more hours, which is great.

“Our volunteers get a really good experience and they love what they do and they have a lot of support from our interns and staff,” Burkhart adds.

Literacy is more than just reading and writing, it is the capacity to apply those skills to connect and interpret the intricacies of the world.

“Literacy gives access to so many things – jobs, education, health care, shopping, and just getting around in the community. You need to have reading and writing skills and communication skills,” Burkhart says. “It’s what we help people to do: to gain access to all of those things that they need in their lives.”