The Washington Literacy Center (WLC), formerly at the Thurgood Marshall Center for Service & Heritage in Northwest, has long been a resource for adults lacking reading and math skills they need to qualify for well-paying jobs and workforce development programs.
With WLC’s move to a larger space in the heart of downtown D.C. comes the opportunity to not only expand upon its mission but to become one of 100 Comcast Lift Zones in the D.C. metropolitan area.
Through this partnership with Comcast, adults visiting WLC will have access to laptops and high-speed internet they can use to participate in distance learning and remote work, apply for jobs, or access digital content.
WLC Executive Director Jimmie Williams said the current situation better allows residents, especially those from communities east of the Anacostia River, to step outside of their comfort zone and develop their reading and math skills in close proximity to where they would most likely seek job opportunities.
“We’re helping meet the needs of people in a rapidly changing job market,” said Williams, a Ward 7 resident with experience in brand management for Fortune 500 companies.
“They don’t qualify [for job programs] with their low reading and math scores,” he added. “We help and educate them for jobs. Our students have struggled to meet their families’ needs and we meet them halfway to increase their literacy.”
On May 18, WLC commemorated its grand opening with a ceremony that attracted elected officials and community members. Guests included D.C. Councilmembers Robert White (D- t large) and Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) and Ward 7 State Board of Education Representative Eboni-Rose Thompson.
The event included a tour of the facility where people visited classrooms and learned about on-site offerings. Some guests also received information about the federally-funded Affordable Connectivity Program through which low-income residents receive a subsidy for internet or mobile bills.
Throughout the celebration, WLC staff members continued to connect TANF recipients to literacy resources while instructors assisted adult learners with coursework.
Thompson commended WLC for its work in the community, especially as it relates to adults struggling to enter an increasingly technological and skills-based job market.
“No matter what you want to be, reading unlocks the pathways. WLC is one of the few providers focused on pre-workforce development,” Thompson said. “We should support them with investments so that we have people who can do that work and meet residents’ needs. I’m thrilled that Jimmie lives in Ward 7 [because] we have diverse resources and people so we can serve ourselves.”
In the District, considered one of the nation’s most educated cities, nearly one-in-five people live in poverty.
Experts connect that phenomenon to the literacy gap among District residents. Data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics at the beginning of the pandemic showed that one-in-four District adults struggle to read and one-in-three cannot do basic math.
Since 1963, WLC has helped an untold number of District adults increase their reading fluency and comprehension in a 20-month program that coordinators say has helped students acquire newfound skills and advance professionally.
Kelly Loving, a student at Community Preparatory Academy in Southeast who recently visited WLC, said she sought similar opportunities.
Loving, a Ward 5 resident who’s about to take her GED test, learned about the program when she reapplied for TANF benefits. She said previous assessments showed that she needed to improve her reading fluency.
While she has taken on many jobs since leaving school, Loving, now in her early 30s, said she could accomplish much more with a GED. Reflecting on her academic experience, Loving said she felt hindered by a speech impediment and IEP designation.
“I want to improve my literacy and correct the [way I use] language,” Loving said. “It’s important because I messed up around 11th grade and got kicked out of school. I’ve been working for half of my life. Had I finished school, I would’ve had trades under my belt and making good money.”