About Us

The mission of Literacy Mid-South is to provide literacy resources to learners of all backgrounds and ages.  Our organization serves all of the Mid-South, from adults to children.  

Literacy Mid-South improves the quality of life in our community through education by providing literacy programs for adults and children as well as a network of collaborative projects with some of the Mid-South's finest educational organizations.  Our organization was formed to help people of all ages and backgrounds achieve the critical literacy skills they need to navigate the world. We are a group of passionate staff, volunteers, board, and community organizations dedicated to making the Mid-South a community actively engaged in continuous learning.  

Who We Are and Where We Are Going

Previously named the Memphis Literacy Council and Mid-South Reads, LMS has been working to increase the literacy of mid-southerners for over 40 years through group literacy classes, individual tutoring, and resourcing other non-profits.

Having recently completed a strategic plan, our staff and board works every day to meet the following objectives, to name a few:

  • Increase the literacy levels of adult learners by providing high quality basic literacy education.
  • Unite and build the capacity of non-profit organizations, businesses, educational institutions, government agencies, and members of the community to create a community actively engaged in continuous learning in the Mid-South.
  • Be the primary resource for literacy expertise and advocacy. 

What Would Memphis Look Like if We Completed Our Mission?

All mid-southerners are literate and have a passion for life-long learning. Our community attracts employers offering high-wage jobs because our citizens fulfill their full potential in the job market. Individuals and families are earning wages that allow them to meet their basic needs and more, resulting in a reduction in poverty and crime. All children get a healthy start to life with homes and nearby libraries that are full of books. Therefore, our high school and post-secondary graduation rates are on the rise. This vision affirms that literacy is a foundational element to a healthy and happy community. 

The need has never been clearer and our community has never been more ready. 

Literacy is the very foundation of a productive and thriving community. Literacy skills are needed for everything from reading to a child, to understanding the information on a nutrition label and medicine bottles, to completing the process for obtaining a driver’s license. The need is great in our community:

  • 26% of adults have low literacy skills that prevent them from filling out a job application, making sense out of a bus schedule or participating in a job readiness program.
  • Low literacy is strongly related to crime.  70% of prisoners fall into the lowest two levels of reading proficiency.

Under the leadership of the county and city mayors, our community is implementing Memphis Fast Forward, the community-wide economic develop plan. This plan calls for “cradle to career education reform,” including resources for adults to return to school to earn degrees and certificates. But with 14% of Shelby County adults at the most basic literacy level and 22% who function at a marginally higher level, most of the adults who walk through our door (85%) read on a fourth grade level. At that level, many struggle to complete job applications successfully, much less to ready themselves to be members of the new workforce that our leadership is attempting to build - a workforce that attracts and retains growth companies in our targeted industries (biotech, advanced manufacturing, and logistics). 

How We Strengthen Our Community

We operationalize our mission through two primary vehicles – the Adult Learning program and the Smart Memphis Coalition.

The Adult Learning program has received awards for excellence in programming and has as its backbone more than 250 trained volunteers who help adults who want to learn. The program increases the ability of adults to be self-sufficient and to meet their life goals by increasing their literacy skills through high-quality literacy education. Not only does this program address basic reading and math, but it also helps adult learners gain the life skills needed to reach goals, such as attaining citizenship, getting a driver’s license, being better able to communicate with their doctors, and learning good financial management techniques. Key components include: 

  • Individualized learning plans and goals that are coupled with pre- and post-student testing.
  • More structure for the volunteer tutors while allowing for creativity.
  • Tutoring with applicable, adult-appropriate content that relates to everyday adult living/issues.

Smart Memphis is a coalition of non-profit organizations, businesses, educational institutions and government agencies united to promote reading and lifelong learning in the Mid-South. Membership is free and open to everyone who desires to build a great community of literate citizens. The coalition offers trainings for literacy-based programs, monthly meetings for service providers, and other special events. Past events that typify Smart Memphis offerings include community roundtable events, an annual literacy summit, advocacy forums, advanced trainings for educational partners, and an adult basic education collaborative.