With an increasing number of immigrants in Dane County, the Literacy Network has no problem filling its classes.
Now, thanks to a gift from the Madison Club Charitable Foundation, 100 more adult learners will benefit from Literacy Network services in the coming year. The $128,000 gift will enable the Literacy Network to offer more classes to adult learners, said Jeff Burkhart, the organization's executive director.
The Literacy Network is a nonprofit that helps students get a better grasp on reading, writing speaking and computer skills. Founded in 1974, it hosts programs for native English speakers as well as English as a Second Language courses for non-native speakers like immigrant and refugee students. Last year, the organization served over 1,000 adults in 34 locations around Dane County.
The Madison Club money will help the organization's long-term growth, Burkhart said.
The Literacy Network currently leases out part of its building at 701 Dane St. to Madison-Area Urban Ministry. Burkhart said that creates a “great programmatic relationship,” but the Literacy Network would eventually like to be able to expand into the rest of the building. One of the organization’s “biggest bottlenecks” for growth is lack of office space for staff members, Burkhart said.
The organization also recently received a $300,000 grant from the Oscar Rennebohm Foundation to expand classes and support services for adults looking to study at Madison College. That will help more non-native speakers earn degrees, Burkhart said.
Receiving two major gifts just a month apart is an unusual blessing, Burkhart said.
“It’s really exciting. We still have bigger goals that we need to accomplish ... this is a great step in the right direction for us,” Burkhart said. “There is definitely a need in the community.”
According to a 2003 evaluation of literacy skills (the most recent data available), there are about 55,000 adults who struggle with literacy in Dane County, or one in seven adults, according to the Literacy Network website.
Since then, the number of immigrants in the community has increased significantly, Burkhart said, making 55,000 a “very conservative estimate” of the need. A recent report found a 24 percent increase in the number of immigrants in Dane County from 2011 to 2016.
Burkhart said he was "honored to be included" among the organizations the Madison Club Charitable Foundation has supported over the years with a total of $1.2 million in gifts.
“We’re certainly very appreciative of the Madison Club. They’ve been so wonderful to work with,” Burkhart said.