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Driven By Hope: Literacy council empowering adults with language skills

Deborah Monday Night Class

Imagine not being able to read or understand this article. What if it were printed in a different language?

The mission of the Literacy Council of Southwestern PA (LCSWPA) is to empower adults and families with literacy skills that enable them to lead successful, fulfilled lives as members of the community. Founded in 1985, the LCSWPA has transformed the lives of adults and families throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania through the gift of reading, writing and language, and has been chosen as this month’s recipient of the Driven By Hope Award sponsored by Washington Auto Mall.

The LCSWPA is a volunteer-run, privately funded nonprofit with a mission to promote economic opportunity, a strong and united community, and a higher quality of life for all people through literacy.

“We offer free programming in Washington, Greene, Fayette and Westmoreland counties,” says LCSWPA Executive Director Brandi Miller. “We are in the adult education world. Our biggest one is English as a second language (ESL).”

Demand for that program has exploded in recent years, growing 285% since 2020.

“We actually have a waiting list now because we’ve literally run out of space. Last month, we welcomed our 72nd country.”

Some ESL students have goals like getting a driver’s license, obtaining citizenship or being able to converse with their children’s teachers and doctors. “Students have a lot of different goals that they want, but that’s the first reason why they’re here is because they want to better themselves and become productive members of society,” Miller said. Others have productive careers in their home country but can’t practice in the United States without English language competency or education credits.

“We have many professionals that come over looking to do what they did back home,” said Miller. “We have many doctors, lawyers, economists, nurses – you name it, we have it, but they can’t practice what they did back home because their university credits haven’t transferred. We have a course and test they can pass to move on to either get their GED or get into a university or college here.”

LCSWPA also partners with Intermediate Unit 1 to provide Graduate Equivalency Degree (GED) classes across the four counties. “We want to make sure that everyone gets a great education,” says Miller. “So as the literacy council, we actually provide vouchers for all the students to take tests.”

All of LCSWPA’s classes are offered to students free of charge. Most tutors are volunteers and have given more than 10,000 hours of tutoring through the years. Demand is so high now that LCSWPA had to hire three part-time teachers. Except for Local Share Account (LSA) grants from the Redevelopment Authority of the County of Washington, the literacy council is funded through donations, corporate sponsorships and grants.

What’s their biggest need?

“We need more tutors to cover our huge expansion and our huge growth,” says Miller. “We never had a waiting list in our 38 years of being in existence. So, we need more volunteers and tutors.”

The LCSWPA also holds an annual trivia contest fundraiser each October.

If you’re interested in volunteering or making a monetary donation, visit their website at

“We got a new website that was generously funded by Washington County Community Foundation,” Miller says. “A lot of our students, as you know, don’t speak English. When you go onto our website, you’re able to translate it in any language you want and fill out online enrollment forms if they want to be a student or if they want to be a volunteer.”

Miller stressed that tutors don’t have to be professional teachers.

“Volunteer tutors or aides, we ask a minimum of three hours per week for a year commitment to build that student-teacher relationship,” she added. “If they contact us, we’ll find them something to do.”

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