Adult literacy funding cuts send nonprofit into high gear
With a 20 percent loss in overall funding due to state cutbacks, and possible funding cuts by the city, Menlo Park's adult literacy services may be in jeopardy.
But a nonprofit fundraising group supporting Project Read Menlo Park is moving into high gear to help the program continue providing the same level of free reading, writing and other literacy instruction to local adults.
Literacy Partners was established as a nonprofit in 2010, and has been working quietly but steadily to establish its board of directors and its fundraising strategies, and sponsoring small fundraising projects.
Now, in the face of depleted funding, the nonprofit organization's leaders have come up with a strategy to reduce the literacy program's annual spending from $200,000 to $185,000, and have set a $75,000 fundraising goal for this fiscal year, according to Literacy Partners Chair Tim Grow.
With about $43,000 already raised — some of it through large contributions from the group's board members — Literacy Partners has until the end of June to raise the additional $32,000. That would allow Project Read to continue at their current level a number of services, including its free one-on-one reading tutoring for adults, the Families for Literacy program, and English classes for adults in the Belle Haven community.
These services are crucial, said Mr. Grow, who noted that literacy experts estimate that about 15 percent of Menlo Park residents are functionally illiterate. "Literacy skills help Menlo Park's residents be better employees, better parents, and better community members," he said.
Project Read currently has about 85 tutors and other volunteers, serving about 125 adult students, according to Roberta Roth, the program's literacy outreach specialist.
In addition to the state's elimination of its annual $40,000 contribution to Project Read, the program may fall victim to cuts by the city, which sponsors it through its library department. Annual city funding has come in at $55,000, but the Literacy Partners board is bracing for a cut as the city struggles to balance its budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, Mr. Grow said.
Other sources of annual funding for Project Read have typically been the nonprofit Friends of the Menlo Park Library, which has contributed $55,000; and grants and donations by individuals and corporations, to the tune of about $50,000, Mr. Grow said.
Literacy Partners board members are still working on the group's long-term plan for fundraising, he said. But they're hoping a benefit event set for Sunday, March 11, from 1 to 3 p.m., will raise plenty of funds while raising spirits at Cafe Zoe, 1929 Menalto Ave. in Menlo Park.
"Sing out for Literacy" will feature an "open mike" musical opportunity for participants, and a silent auction. Cafe Zoe owner Kathleen Daly, a stalwart supporter of Project Read, will donate 50 percent of proceeds from the entire day's food and beverage sales to the organization.
Meanwhile, Literacy Partners is hoping to boost its board membership by several people who are interested in helping with fundraising, Mr. Grow said. It now has seven members, he said.
Mr. Grow, a product manager at Google by day, has volunteered on the Literacy Partners board for about two years. The son of educators and grandson of a librarian, he said adult literacy is a natural cause to focus his energy on.
Those interested in serving on the board or volunteering in other ways for Literacy Partners can contact Mr. Grow at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Go to projectreadmenlopark.org to learn more about Project Read or to donate to the program.