By Andy Meek
December 30, 2013
Reprinted with permission by the Memphis Daily News
Literacy Mid-South is preparing to turn the page on 2013 and begin a new year and new chapter in the group’s story.
It has been a transformative year for the group, which tweaked its programming in recent months and relocated into a new home in early December at Playhouse on the Square. And big things already are on the horizon for 2014 – including the group’s first-ever book festival, according to Literacy Mid-South executive director Kevin Dean.
It’ll be a major bash for book fans at the Memphis Botanic Garden in September, one for which the group will look to draw a regional audience as well as local, regional and national authors.
“The Southern Festival of Books – they came a few years ago to Memphis but haven’t come back since,” Dean said. “So we’re going to fill that role. We’ll have a big festival at the botanic garden in September. We already have the building reserved, and we’re working on building a website. We’ll have speakers, panel discussions, a book sale and emerging authors selling their books. And the festival will be free, so that’s exciting.”
Other changes for the organization include the group’s adult learning program adding book clubs. Literacy Mid-South also is launching a volunteer council that will give volunteers representation on its board of directors, allowing them to make recommendations to board members.
2014 also represents a symbolic milestone as the group’s 40th anniversary.
“We created a business plan this year that was approved by our board in January,” Dean said. “That really has set the path for where we’re going. And we have a very clear plan in place for what we’re going to do.”
As far as what the group has already done, in the past 12 months it launched a variety of efforts, including WriteMemphis, a program for improving reading and writing proficiency among adults and children through creative writing.
Literacy Mid-South is looking to fund “innovative collaborations” between education programs through its Collaborations Fund. The group also launched a Training and Technical Assistance Fund, and its Read Memphis Project certifies and funds emerging pre-GED programs in the Memphis area.
The literacy organization’s new home at Playhouse comes after several months in a temporary space while the group searched for something more permanent. Literacy Mid-South earlier this year moved to United Methodist Neighborhood Centers from the Cooper-Young area, a move that shrunk its space from 10,000 square feet to about 1,700 square feet.
That change resulted in savings that the group plowed back into literacy programs.
“In July, we changed all our programming,” Dean said. “We did our first round of grants about two weeks ago. We announced five different recipients, and we’ve never done grants before. We moved into Playhouse. Right now, we have five organizations being certified through us to become pre-GED programs in the city.”
2013 also included much more. The group retooled its citywide reading campaign, which it said reached more than 5,000 children and their families. Literacy Mid-South launched an online and pop-up retail store. A slew of awards and distinctions came its way, including Dean’s receipt of the Ruth J. Colvin and Frank C. Laubach Award for Excellence in Community-Based Literacy.
“Trying to plan for the next 40 years is complicated, but I have a feeling that what we’re doing now is the best option for Memphis, for sure,” Dean said.