Congratulations to Loudoun Literacy Council for being a finalist for Nonprofit Organization of the Year! Post written by Nikki Daruwala, Executive Director. The livestream of the 26th Annual Loudoun Small Business Awards will premier Friday, November 13, 2020 at 6:00 p.m. on our Facebook Page. View all 2020 SBA Finalists here.
Tell us about your nonprofit, how it got started, and how it has evolved into what it is today.
Loudoun Literacy Council has provided literacy services in Loudoun County for 40 years. In 1980, our programs focused on English tutoring services for recently arrived refugees and have grown into extensive literacy enrichment opportunities for adults and children through both adult and family literacy programs.
According to the most recent Census data, more than 130,000 adults in Northern Virginia function at the lowest literacy level. In Loudoun County, 32,000 residents do not speak English well. Approximately 11 percent of Loudoun families are considered low-income and based on findings from the IEA Reading Literacy Study, 61% of children in low-income families do not own a single book at home.
Our Adult Literacy Program provides small group classes and individual tutoring for adults seeking assistance in basic literacy, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), GED preparation, financial literacy, citizenship test preparation, and health literacy. Through the continued development of literacy programs, services, and a well-trained team of staff and volunteers, Loudoun Literacy Council has moved to virtual literacy instruction during this year due to COVID-19. We also work with local employers to provide ESOL classes tailored to their specific industry and delivered on their job site.
Since 1998, our Family Literacy Program has provided the federally mandated, yet unfunded, literacy enrichment component to the Head Start program in Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS), including reading in classrooms, book distribution, and family literacy events for all members of the families served. In 2017, this program was expanded to include children in LCPS’s Starting Toward Excellence in Preschool (STEP) program. Our Sweet Dreams Program provides literacy activities and models reading aloud to families and children in the local homeless shelters. Other programs include Baby Book Bundles, through which we provide literacy tips and baby books to at-risk expectant and new parents, and our Book Builder Program, through which we deliver books to the larger community.
Last year, we distributed about 15,000 books to children and adults in the community and have distributed about 10,000 books just since the pandemic began. Last year, we also added a new program, School Success, aimed at educating non-English speaking parents to better communicate with their child’s teacher and school administration. This has been extremely important during the pandemic, with virtual leaning.
Our delivery model in all of our programs is to train our team of almost 500 volunteers to serve as instructors and readers. These well-trained and dedicated volunteers bring our literacy programs to life in communities across Loudoun.
What would it mean for you and your nonprofit to win a Small Business Award?
We provide literacy services to the 32,000 residents in Loudoun County who do not speak English. We see the ability to speak English as an equalizer. With that capability, they are better able to apply for and succeed in their jobs, for example. We also provide books to low-income households, which represent 11 percent of Loudoun County’s families.
A Small Business Award for Loudoun Literacy Council would not only be a testament to our talented staff, board and team of almost 500 volunteers, but it also would be a gesture that shows that Loudoun County prioritizes learning, reading and personal and professional empowerment for all of its residents, including the most vulnerable among us. The community-wide impact of the Small Business Award would also greatly increase the knowledge of and our ability to communicate the tremendous need for literacy services across our county.
What is the smallest thing that has made the biggest impact on your organization?
What started as a small project to encourage people to send Loudoun Literacy Council a video showing them reading one of their favorite children’s books ended up having a huge impact. With schools and libraries closed, the idea evolved out of thinking of so many children and families who were staying at home because of the pandemic. It became “Read Across Loudoun” and Loudoun Literacy Council received videos from a diverse group of 58 readers who “virtually” invited people into their homes to share their favorite children’s storybooks. Books and stories, read by people of many ethnicities and in many languages, were brought to life with creative animation, costumes, and fun props. It was truly heartwarming! See photo below for examples of this campaign.
Who is the one person that has influenced you the most in your career?
At Loudoun Literacy Council, we are guided by many visionaries and change-makers who came before us. Marian Wright Edelman is one such leader. What she once said resonates with us today: “Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it.”
What is your favorite thing about running your nonprofit in Loudoun County?
We have a vision that all those who live and work in Loudoun County will have the literacy skills required to participate and thrive in our community. What makes this a favorite part of leading Loudoun Literacy Council for me is that this aligns closely with my belief in giving everyone an opportunity to fulfill their potential and contribute to their community. We have a pathway to achieving this vision, which is not always a straight line. With COVID-19, we have encountered a bit of a rocky road, but we adjusted quickly and found it stretched our thinking and expanded our services! We strongly believe that our vision is attainable. It is the energy and passion that our entire team of stakeholders – staff, board, volunteers, partners, donors, and above all, clients – give us that gets us a step closer to our vision each day.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a child, I wanted to be a professional Indian classical dancer. I attained the highest level of training to do so. However, my teenage years opened my eyes to a world of opportunities outside of classical dance. A big change for me came when I started exploring all of the opportunities that were available to me and where I might fit. I traveled to the United States in pursuit of an education and the beginning of my professional journey. It was my dream and this wonderful opportunity is the foundation of my devotion to improving lives through literacy and serving the needs of our community.
What is a book that changed your life, and WHY?
I cannot point to just one. Currently, every staff and board member at Loudoun Literacy Council is focused on and actively participating in Dan Pallotta’s BOLD Training and reading The Everyday Philanthropist. In doing so, we are pushing ourselves to think BOLD-ly about our vision and mission. The BOLD Training is inspiring us to pursue a goal to move our organization forward with promising and significant changes to achieve the next phase of understanding literacy needs and taking action to meet those needs throughout our community.
When you’re not at your desk, where can we find you on the weekends/what is another passion you have?
Loudoun is a wonderful place to live! I have been a resident for well over two decades, and I love all of it. I am a foodie and a live music-lover, and that passion takes me to many of the great restaurants and local music events Loudoun has to offer. I also love our close proximity to nature through our parks and outdoor spaces for hiking, which I enjoy with my family as often as I can.
How do you see your nonprofit evolving in the next 5 years?
Through Loudoun Literacy Council, we are still only scratching the surface of addressing the “need” for our literacy services in Loudoun. Last year, we directly served 2,440 residents and we know first-hand that the demand for our services is far, far greater. We keep evolving our programs, and rolling out new services to meet the constantly growing demand. In doing do, we are building an empowered community of English language learners.
Congratulations again to Nikki and the team at Loudoun Literacy Council! Check out their website here.