Building and Strengthening Neighborhoods and People

The ALC’s Catherine Mahan awarded Volunteer of the Year by M.A.A.C.C.E.

The GHCC Blog Team recently caught up with the Adult Learning Center’s Catherine Mahan, who was recently awarded the 2015 Volunteer Award from the Maryland Association of Adult Community and Continuing Education.

Catherine Mahan

Catherine Mahan

Congratulations on receiving this award!  How did you first come to be a volunteer at the Adult Learning Center?
Well, for most of my working career I ran my own design firm.  It was work I enjoyed, but it did involve long hours and some travel away from home.  I also raised two children, and I was active in my professional society.  So I had very little time for service work.  It was my plan to be able to do something to “give back to the Baltimore Community” where I had made my career once I retired.  I had actually planned to retire by 2008 but the economy was so bad, it wasn’t a good time for me to leave my firm (I was president!). So I decided to go ahead and do some of the things that I hoped to do in retirement while I continued working. I came to the Adult Learning Center in 2008 and took the training to be a tutor.  I taught ESOL classes right out of college, and have always been interested in Adult Literacy, so this was a natural fit for me.

Wow, we are so glad you did not wait to retire to become a volunteer with us!  What do you do as an ALC volunteer?
It keeps growing and changing!  Initially I tutored one-on-one with a woman who was from Korea.  We met once a week, which was all either of us could manage as she worked full time also. We met for several years until my schedule no longer permitted it.  I later became involved with a program the ALC developed called “Get That Job”.  I developed a training piece on job interviewing which I gave a couple of times a year when the ALC was running the program.  Then in 2010 I joined the Advisory Board, and I have worked on the Board ever since.  I was co-chair of the Scrabble Fundraiser in 2013.  I also continually work wherever I am out and about to shine the light on the ALC and to solicit donations for the terrific work that goes on there.

Your enthusiasm really shines through!  Can you tell us what you like best about volunteering at the ALC?
I have always liked working with other people towards a common goal, be it developing a good design solution for an office project or working on people’s language and communication skills.  But probably the best thing for me personally, is that I find that Greater Homewood and the Adult Learning Center are places where I have learned a lot and grown a lot myself.  Not only do the people here have a good heart, but they run a smart organization, and I am continually learning from them.

What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the growth of Adult Education in Baltimore?
There are a lot of barriers to accessing continuing education, and the ALC tries to address them when they can (getting bus tokens, providing notebooks or classroom materials, etc.)  As transportation is often an issue, bringing the classes into the community has been an important step, and the Center now has several “off site” classes.  The Adult Learning Center changed its name several years ago from the “Adult Literacy Center” when it became apparent that there were negative connotations to “literacy” and some learners didn’t want their employers to know that they were taking ‘literacy” classes.  The change to “learning” is a positive change.

What do you like to do in your time away from volunteering at the ALC?
I also volunteer at Cylburn Arboretum!  As I am a landscape architect, I greatly enjoy helping out with their projects and maintaining the two hundred acres of gardens and open space.  I also enjoy water color painting and printmaking.

Thank you, Catherine, for volunteering your time and energy to the Adult Learning Center.  And congratulations again on receiving the 2015 Volunteer Award!

Play Scrabble for a Good Cause


Players face off at the 9th Annual Scrabble Fundraiser for Literacy in March 2010.

For nine years, participants in GHCC’s Scrabble® Fundraiser for Literacy have gathered in the spirit of fun and games to support a good cause — fighting adult illiteracy in Baltimore City. This year marks the event’s tenth anniversary and with an estimated 100 players planning to attend, promises to be the best one yet with live music, a silent auction, food, beer, wine, and fun.

Read more about the event »

Volunteering With GHCC’s Adult Literacy & ESOL Program

Submitted by Mary Kay Shock

I became involved with the Greater Homewood Literacy program 10 years ago when I retired. Greater Homewood Community Corporation seemed like a good local place to volunteer. Since I have a degree in literature, tutoring adults is a great fit for my skill-set. The regularly scheduled sessions give structure and a sense of purpose to my daily life after my retirement. The staff of the literacy program partnered me with learners whose schedules matched mine. The program also provided training, teaching materials, consultation and support from Greater Homewood Community Corporation’s friendly, expert staff.

The students I have worked with, since I began volunteering with Greater Homewood Community Corporation ten years ago, have become my friends. Every learner I have worked with is different and unique. One of my students could neither read nor write. We worked together for five years and by the end of our partnership he had become an American citizen with a full time job. The Greater Homewood Community Corporation Literacy program taught him how to read, write, and use a computer. These tools helped make him a successful American citizen.

A female student I worked with improved both her reading and writing skills. She even wrote two books of poems with her newly acquired knowledge! The man I am currently working with has improved in reading, spelling and math. He has achieved his goal of learning cursive writing.
Greater Homewood is a safe, convenient neighborhood with easy access to public transportation, stores, churches, libraries, cultural events, and volunteer opportunities. It truly is a great place to live.

GHCC’s Adult Literacy & ESOL Program is seeking volunteers!  If you would like to tutor an adult basic education or ESOL learner, contact Jannette Seman at 410-261-0023.

National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week

Submitted by Todd Elliott

“Adult education” means many things to many people. To some it’s about yoga and Spanish classes at a local community college. To those of us in the professional field of adult literacy the phrase refers to a wide range of options in the continuum of lifelong learning: English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), basic education, GED test preparation, the External Diploma Program, and family literacy. And it goes beyond that – many adult literacy programs include computer instruction, workforce and employability assistance, and financial literacy.

Congress recently passed House Resolution 707 declaring this week of October 18 to 24, 2009 “National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week.” As this issue is very close to our hearts at Greater Homewood Community Corporation, we are pleased to have the opportunity to recognize the successes of the adults who are working to improve their skills and their lives.

One of those learners is Martin, who has been with the Program since January 2009. When he enrolled after just a few weeks in the U.S., Martin’s English was spotty at best and he struggled to find the vocabulary to express himself. An engineer in his home country in Cameroon, Martin had to wait the necessary period before becoming eligible for a “green card,” his permission slip from the U.S. government to work. In late July, after a long search, he found employment as a machine operator. One day one he impressed his supervisor with his knowledge and skills, and he has already received a promotion.

To eliminate barriers caused by illiteracy and low communication skills, the Adult Literacy & ESOL Program at GHCC responds to individual learners’ needs by offering intensive, learner-centered instruction through classes and one-to-one tutoring. We serve two distinct populations, age 16 and older: adults in need of basic education, and immigrants seeking English language skills. Native-born learners focus on basic reading, writing, and math skill development, while immigrants work on basic to advanced English listening, speaking, and writing skills.

It is remarkable that in a nation as affluent as ours there continues to be a staggering number of adults who cannot read or write – nationally 90 million adults are eligible to receive adult education services (the National Assessment for Adult Literacy, 2008), and in Maryland more than 750,000 are without basic skills. The tragedy is that in our state only 5% of those adults actually receive instruction due to long wait lists.

In Baltimore City 35% of adults have less than a 12th grade education, and even more are at the lowest literacy levels. The Maryland State Department of Education last year reported that in today’s workforce a high school education is a minimum essential for employment, and individuals who earn a high school diploma or GED equivalent increase their annual wage capacity by $7,216. The work we do can and does make a difference.

So how can you help or get in involved? Here are some ideas:

  • Tutor: Volunteer to work with a learner for basic reading, writing, math, or English instruction. GHCC has the only literacy and ESOL tutor trainings in Baltimore, so call us today to find out more.
  • Donate: Contributions to our Adult Literacy & ESOL Program are invaluable as we seek to maintain these crucial services to the community.
  • Advocate: Contact your national and local elected officials and encourage them to keep adult education in their priority areas. More importantly, encourage them to increase funding for adult education!

When it comes down to it, so many of our national issues are heavily reliant on strong literacy skills: health care must have literate, informed patients to be effective; our fiscal and economic health is based on a savvy consumer population; and we must all engage in constructive, responsive public discourse. All this and more can be achieved through successful adult education.

Todd Elliott
Director, Adult Literacy & ESOL Program
(410) 261-3524

Teaching at Greenmount Senior Center

ESOL Class at Greenmount Senior Center

Near the corner of North and Greenmount Avenues, across the street from the historic Greenmount Cemetery, you will find the Greenmount Senior Center (GSC), a recreation center dedicated to Korean residents of the Baltimore area. Though it’s not in Baltimore’s best neighborhood, the center itself is clean, modern, and well-lit.

If you walk into one of the classrooms at the GSC at about 11:00 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday, you will see a group of 8 or 9 Korean seniors hard at work, determined to learn English. This is my class. They may be working quietly in pairs, they may be amusing their classmates with anecdotes about their life in the USA, or they may be sitting quietly in the back of the room, just trying to absorb it all. There are quite a few there who are already US citizens, others are working hard at earning their citizenship. Some have adopted American names; others, I address by their Korean ones. Though their skill levels are mixed, they all share a dedication to improving their English and therefore improving their lives in the USA. Most of them rarely miss a class as they tackle the daunting task of mastering a new language later in life.

The Greater Homewood Adult Literacy & ESOL Program teaches at many locations outside the four classrooms at our Homewood office in the basement of the University Baptist Church. The Greenmount Senior center is just one of them. We have sponsored classes at GSC for about two years, and I have been teaching there for one. The senior population at GSC is quite a contrast to the diverse and generally much younger population we teach here at our Homewood site, and it took me a while to adapt to working with them. Now I can say I learn at least as much from them as they do from me, if not more.

Submitted by Christian Clausen