For an organization with such a lofty vision – making literacy available to everyone in Orange County – Orange Literacy came from rather humble beginnings.  In 1984, Susan Attermeier, a member of the physical therapy faculty of UNC, and Mike Meyer, a doctoral candidate in philosophy, happened upon a tutor training workshop being taught by Mary Talbert, a tiny, formidable woman who had spent her adult life promoting adult literacy.  During training, they learned that Orange County {http://www.co.orange.nc.us/} had no formal, organized adult literacy program.  A few conversations and a bottle of wine later, the Orange Council Literacy Council was formed.

Their first step was to build community support.  A Franklin Street printer donated flyers and bus placards.   When the Chapel Hill Newspaper {http://www.chapelhillnews.com/} published an article about the new organization, George Gamble and Mary Ann Steele, both veterans of a literacy program in Virginia, joined the effort.  They began working with their first two students – Susan with a woman who wanted to learn to sign her own name, Mike with a woman who wanted to learn to read her Bible.  The need was eye-opening.  And the community responded.  Twenty-five volunteers signed up for tutor training and each was matched with a student.

There was no turning back.

For the next two years, the Council operated out of a series of shoeboxes stuffed under the beds and in the closets of this core group. Then in 1986, a $6,000 grant from United Way allowed the group to open their first office on Main Street in Carrboro. That same year the Council recruited its first staff member – a Vista volunteer named Pindie Stephen. Pindie had extensive experience in community organization overseas, and started to establish connections between the Literacy Council and other community service organizations.

In subsequent years the Council expanded its funding base to include support from the North Carolina Community College System, the Orange County Partnership for Young Children, Orange County, the towns of Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough, churches, public and private foundations and individuals. This funding enabled the Council to hire permanent staff, and as the need became apparent, to expand into northern and unincorporated Orange County and to add new programs.

What drives the effort and fuels the continued growth and stability of the Council? According to co-founder Susan Attermeier it’s a shared commitment to social justice – “every staff member and every volunteer understands that an adult who cannot read or write feels alienated from society and does not have access to economic security and the fulfillment of personal dreams.” Over and over, this belief is verified by the Council’s students. They are proud of their new abilities to obtain job promotions, vote, and help their children with school work. Perhaps more importantly, they are proud of themselves for taking the risk to ask for help and to do the hard work necessary to reach their literacy goals.

The Council has experienced a number of changes since those early years.  A few highlights:

1984 – Incorporates and receives status as 501(c)3 non-profit.

1985 – Hires its first (part-time) Program Coordinator.

1986 – Hires its first (half-time) Director and moves into its first office – an old mill house on Main Street in Carrboro.

1990 – Opens a satellite office on North Churton Street in Hillsborough.

1995 – Starts Family Reading Program for parents of pre-school children.

1996 – Starts Creative Writing Program in local homeless shelters.

1998 – Moves into the Skills Development Center on Franklin Street and becomes a partner in Orange County’s JobLink.

2004 – Hires its first full-time staff member.

2006 – Starts English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Program.

2008 – Starts the Writers for Readers Book and Author Luncheon event, with a mix of fiction and non-fiction writers, humorists and new discoveries.  Author (and former Director) Daniel Wallace emcees.

2008 – Works with UNC Employees’ Forum and UNC Human Resources to offer the UNC Workplace Literacy Pilot – reading fundamentals and basic computer literacy classes – to university employees.

2009 – Begins teaching GED preparation class to employees in UNC Facilities Department.

2010 – Returns to its Carrboro roots, moving to its current home on the second floor of Carr Mill Mall, with dedicated classroom space and a full-time computer lab.

2010 – Implements Adelante! – a program focused on recruiting students from the burgeoning Latino population.

2010 – Starts classes at Efland-Cheeks Elementary school for parents and employees.

2011 – Pilots a comprehensive Family Literacy Program in partnership with El Centro Hispano, with funding from the Orange County Partnership for Young Children.

2011 – Pilots Sheltered Learning – a peer-to-peer tutoring program in the Men’s and Women’s Shelters, with funding from the Strowd Roses Foundation.

2012 – Starts onsite ESOL classes for all three shifts of UNC housekeepers.

2012 – In partnership with The Karen Center of North Carolina, begins ESOL classes for parents of Karen School students.

2012 – In partnership with The Seymour Center, begins ESOL classes for Chinese Elders.

2013 – Starts classes at New Hope Elementary school for parents and employees.

2014 – Adopts Orange Literacy as its moniker, along with a new look and a new logo.

2014 – Starts onsite computer classes for UNC Facilities employees.

2014 – Starts classes at Grady Brown Elementary school for parents and employees.

2014 – Starts onsite ESOL classes for all three shifts of UNC Hospitals housekeepers and food service employees.

2015 – In partnership with CWS, secures U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service grant to offer civics education in multiple counties.