People of Literacy Mid-South is a column that takes a close look at the folks that make our organization tick.
This week we’re talking to Lee Chase IV, Special Projects Coordinator for Literacy Mid-South. Lee has been a volunteer tutor since 2012, and is also a freelance writer and filmmaker. Before joining Literacy Mid-South, Lee was an Account Manager for Mimeo.com, an online printing company. He also has experience writing and developing corporate training courses for adult learners. Lee graduated from Christian Brothers University with a BA in English. Lee is a certified ESL trainer by ProLiteracy and a graduate of Leadership Memphis’ Fast Track program.
If you had to describe yourself in three words, what three words would you choose?
Dedicated, Empathetic, Silly
How did you start working with Literacy Mid-South?
I started as a tutor in 2012, so I was familiar with the organization and had a lot of admiration for what they were doing. I was miserable in my last job and the amount of anxiety it gave me was unbearable. I had spent the past seven years as an account manager, and even though I didn’t have a passion for it, I wasn’t sure what else I was going to do since that is where my experience was. But then the listing came up that Literacy Mid-South was looking for an Adult Learning Coordinator, and even though I had never worked in non-profit before and it would be a hefty pay cut, I decided to give it a whirl. It came down between me and one other person, but Kevin wanted to hire us both, so he made Troy Wiggins the Adult Learning Coordinator and created a position for me. It doesn’t get much more flattering than that!
What kind of work do you do for Literacy Mid-South?
I have been referred to on occasion as “Mr. Many Hats.” My original title when hired was Workplace Literacy Coordinator, which required me to develop a program to provide on site training at local area businesses to the employees who struggle with English. All the curriculum is designed to help improve job performance, reduce turnover, and inspire confidence. The program is called Memphis Mobile Workforce, and I completed a 10 week pilot run last month. In addition to that, I am also helping plan this year’s Mid-South Book Festival by being the main contact for authors and vendors, as well as coordinating the opening night reception and street fair. If time permits, I also assist with the Summer Reading Program when they need an extra hand. Like I said, I wear many hats!
What is one of the biggest educational challenges that Memphis faces?
While I was developing Memphis Mobile Workforce, I met with a number of local organizations who stressed just how many foreign born people in our city lack English skills. Many of them have jobs and are able to perform their duties well, but there is a large communication barrier with co-workers and supervisors, and there are safety concerns that come with not understanding English. But the business has to be willing to invest in their employees too. Some of the businesses I have spoken with have shown interest, but others just do not see it as a priority. We have to find a way to change that, to prove to employers that their staff are people and that these English skills will show positive growth not only in their job but also their everyday lives.
Tell us about one time where you really felt like your work really helped to make a difference in the Mid-South.
My proudest moment thus far was in the middle of the pilot for Memphis Mobile Workforce. I gave the class the same assessment four weeks in that they took on the first day, and the average score shot up 69%! I was so proud of them! A close second would be when an employee with the pilot site company told me that one of the learners who used to never speak to him was trying to start conversations! These were the first real results I got to see, and they truly showed the power of what this program can do.
Would you switch roles with any other Literacy Mid-South employee? If so, who would you switch with?
I love being able to learn about what everyone on the staff is doing and how each of their programs work, but I wouldn’t want to switch roles. At this point, I am exactly where I need to be and for that, I am extremely grateful. Doesn’t mean I won’t be ready down the road, but I still have a lot to learn.
Describe what happens on a typical day off for you.
Movies, movies, movies! I am movie obsessed, so I try to squeeze in as many movies as I can when I have free time. That can be going to the theater or watching something at home. I am also prepping to direct a movie based on a screenplay I wrote, which is taking up a lot of my time. Sunday nights are reserved for a meal and usually a movie (surprise!) with my parents. I should mention that I do try to read as well, although my stack of books does not seem to be getting any smaller!
If you could make everyone on earth read one book, what book would you choose?
Man, that’s tough! I’d have to go with The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin. I have read it probably ten times, and it still makes me laugh out loud. You can see so much of Martin’s personality in the writing. It’s the perfect safety book if I’m craving something to read because it’s short and there is at least one priceless moment on every page.
What celebrity do people say you resemble? Do you agree with them?
Being told I look like Moby has been the story of my life! I used to get it on an almost daily basis. About five years ago, I was at Alfred’s on Beale and some tourists actually thought I was Moby and asked me to take a picture with them! There was even a case recently where a picture of Moby was accidentally used to represent me and people I know didn’t even realize it was not me! So, I guess it’s kind of hard for me to say I don’t see the resemblance, although there are days when I consider growing my hair back so I can get a new doppelganger.
What Literacy Mid-South event are you most looking forward to in 2016?
The Mid-South Book Festival, without question! Partially because I am putting so much work into it, but mostly because it is such an exciting event. It is a genuine thrill to bring the community together to collectively share a passion for reading and writing, the bonus being that the festival appeals to all ages! Also, it is an absolute joy for us as a staff since we get to work together to pull the whole thing off. On top of that, there are some incredible new additions to this year’s festival to go along with the exceptional author line up and panels! There will definitely be something for everyone, and I’m quite proud of that.
The 2016 Mid-South Book Festival is only months away! It’s free and open to the public, and children are welcome. Check out the presenting authors, and follow Literacy Mid-South and The Mid-South Book Festival on Twitter for more information and updates.