“It is Unacceptable”

It happened in the middle of an inspiring event celebrating the accomplishments of learners using the services provided by Literacy Network of Dane County. “The space Literacy Network occupies is not acceptable for the people we serve,” said Literacy Network Executive Director Jeff Burkhart. “Our adult learners are working toward their goals in a space that is too small and doesn’t afford them the dignity necessary to their progress. They deserve better.”

Those words kicked off the official Growing Through Literacy Campaign and a goal of raising $3 million dollars to renovate the former Wingra Clinic on Madison’s south side as the new home for Literacy Network. The surprise announcement was made by Burkhart during Reading Between the Wines on April 28. “Our service model is effective and efficient,” Burkhart said. “Literacy Network does so much with so little, using more than 900 volunteers who give 30,000 hours of their time every year. But the limitation on our services because of too little space is just unacceptable.” Burkhart says the larger, remodeled space will allow Literacy Network to double the number of adults served with basic reading, writing and language education.

  • Approximately 1 million Wisconsin adults qualify for adult literacy and English language services, but only 50,000 (or approximately 5%) of adults in need of services are currently receiving them. (US Census and the National Adult Literacy survey 1992).
  • In Dane county, more than 55,000 residents lack the functional literacy skills and/or English language skills needed to read a letter from their children’s teachers, a job application, a label in a grocery store, or instructions from a doctor. (US Census 2000 and the National Adult Literacy Survey 1992)

More than 800 adults demonstrated improvement in reading, writing, and English last year. Duane is an example of the success. “Reading changed my life,” Duane says. “ I want to go to college. That’s my goal. It’s why I come here. Reading is like a miracle.”

The miracle to help many others like Duane is underway. Learn more about the Growing Through Literacy Campaign, and track its progress: http://growingthroughliteracy.org/

 About Literacy Network

Literacy Network teaches reading, writing and speaking skills to Dane County adults and families so they can achieve financial independence, good health, and greater involvement in community life.
Literacy Network is a non-profit organization in Madison, WI founded in 1974. We work with teachers, tutors, volunteers and donors to improve adult literacy in Dane County. Our programs help adults find career opportunities, read with children and help with homework, improve computer skills, understand finances, and speak with doctors about health concerns.

Literacy Network programs include classes and tutoring programs throughout Dane County which engage more than 500 volunteer tutors and serve more than 1,000 adult learners each year.
Our strong partnerships with businesses, libraries, hospitals, clinics, schools, and social service agencies build essential community connections for our program participants at twenty eight Dane County sites.

Why I am involved?

Our project is in a position to succeed with a strong and growing capital campaign board. Hear from them in their own words why they have committed their time, expertise and influence to growing Literacy Network’s reach through this campaign.


Photo of oard member Rich Lynch“Every one of us knows the frustration that can go along with clearing up a mistake on your credit card or phone bill…or understanding an income tax form…or maneuvering through health insurance coverage issues over the phone…..well imagine dealing with any of these if you struggle with the language being used…or with reading in general. More than 55,000 adults who live and work right here in Dane County face major challenges with literacy…most live in poverty…and this major challenge holds them back from advancing in their jobs and increasing their contributions to their families… and to our community. The Literacy Network programs are efficient and effective…and they make a difference every day…but they are limited in their reach by inadequate space and a need to grow programs…and grow their amazing volunteer base. I have committed to help with the campaign because Jeff and his team have proven they can make a difference…and we need to give them a better environment to take their efforts scale…and when we do this right, everyone wins….”

– Rich Lynch
J H Findorff & Son


Photo Betty Harris CusterOne of my passions in my fundraising and personal giving has been children and trying to help make sure that children in families with less financial well- being than our own can still have every opportunity we as a society want them to have for their sakes….and for our own. We as a society will be richer by them living up to their potential.. So knowing that one of the most important factors of success for a child in school is the education level of his or her mother made me feel that Literacy Network fits right in the middle of that passion zone for me. Since Literacy Network helps parents achieve a greater level of literacy the parents can be more involved in homework and reading, and help the community lessen the achievement gap.

-Betty Harris Custer


Photo of Dipesh NavsariaSpace matters. Human beings need space in order to strive, grow, and be happy. It’s not just physical space, of course, but “brainspace” — the room to think, learn, and muse. It’s also “timespace” — having enough “give” in one’s daily life to be able to laugh, love, and be a productive member of both family and society. Fluent literacy offers all of these forms of space as a building block of education, career, and modern life. Literacy Network is the only local organization that directly addresses literacy at a hands-on, learner-touching level to nurture the growth of all these forms of “space”.

After all these years, it’s important to take a moment and consider the various “spaces” of Literacy Network. They excel at brainspace — successful, innovative programs which work for the students they serve. They have a vast footprint in timespace — hundreds of volunteers offering countless donated hours of dedication and expertise. But when it comes to physical space — there isn’t enough. Literacy Network has long since outgrown the building they inhabit, and in turn that restricts the good work they already do.

Space matters. Support the Literacy Network Capital Campaign today.

– Dipesh Navsaria


Photo of Lynea LavoyIf knowledge is power, then literacy is the key to the kingdom. As a program director and instructor at Madison College, every day I see the power of literacy for our community members. As a mom literacy is important to me and to our family; we have three small children and I cannot imagine being unable to read their homework, their notes from their teachers, the doctor’s note, and a book to them. As we confront some great issues about war and diplomacy, immigration and citizenship, health care and human rights, and fair access to education and employment, literacy allows us to make informed decisions for ourselves.

Simply put, literacy is a cornerstone of our freedom. Summed up I will quote “Malcolm X: “As I see it today, the ability to read awoke in me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive.

– Lynea LaVoy


Photo of Maureen MinerI believe everyone should have the opportunity to apply for a job, understand a prescription, and read to their children. Unfortunately, in Dane County one in seven people struggle with these activities. Through the help of Literacy Network tutors, staff, and volunteers, individuals learn the skills needed to help them be successful and gain confidence. One learner, after more than 20 years of unemployment, worked with the Literacy Network to improve her computer skills and as a result she successfully landed a job as a captioning assistant. Renee said, “It feels good that society hasn’t given up on you.” The Literacy Network serves over 1,000 individuals each year. which not only helps them and their families, but our community as a whole. Let’s work together toward ending the cycle of illiteracy.

– Maureen Miner


Photo of Rich BirrenkottI have always been a firm believer that a child helped today will change the future of tomorrow’s children.

I believe that investing time at Literacy Network will provide tools and resources to parents of children who find difficulty in communicating with their children’s teachers.

The end result creates a family who enjoys being members of the local community.

– Rich Birrenkott


Photo of Laurie BensonI place a high value on people having choices in their lives. My interest and support of the Literacy Network of Dane County stems from the fundamental facts..low literacy is one of the major barriers to opportunity for thousands for adults in Madison and Dane County. One in six adults in Dane County lives in poverty. We know that low literacy and poverty are correlated. The dedicated leadership and staff at the Literacy Network provide real pathways to opportunities through reading for individuals and families every day that create jobs and improve the health and quality of life for those they serve.

– Laurie Benson Executive Director, Nurses on Boards Coalition


Photo Pete LundbergI am inspired to support Literacy Network because the need is so great, and by addressing literacy, it has a snowball effect in helping individuals AND their families for generations to come. It’s about parents being able to read to their children, about patients understanding the medical process, or about workers getting better employment because they have the tools to excel. This wonderful organization accomplishes so much on a small budget, in part because almost 1000 volunteers are providing countless hours to make a difference. As a business owner, I really appreciate the way every dollar is leveraged, and can’t help but imagine how much more will be accomplished with a larger space and the ability to double the number of students. We will actually dramatically reduce illiteracy in our community, and that will help us all on so many levels…. it’s really exciting!

– Pete Lundberg, owner Janus Galleries and capital campaign committee member


Photo of Fred GantsIf you can’t read, you can’t do much. You’re likely to have a low wage job, and face big obstacles supporting your kids and getting quality health care. Unfortunately, one of seven adults in Dane County, or 55,000 people, face literacy challenges because of language or disability barriers. But there is hope and opportunity! Literacy Network is a United Way agency that provides 900 volunteers who give 30,000 hours of time in 28 locations to help learners read and communicate well, and be their children’s best teachers. As a person who grew up in an apartment and became a labor and employment lawyer, I joined the Board of Directors because of my commitment to see all people grow and advance. While the hours currently provided by our organization are impressive, they don’t even match the people who need to be served. That’s why Literacy Network is moving to a larger building to serve our adult learners better and increase the number of people who can achieve more success in our community.

– Fred Gants, board member and attorney at Quarles and Brady