Imagine being stuck in a world where everything feels as though it is in a foreign language. Constantly getting lost because maps and street names are useless. Unable to fill out a job application or order a meal, and losing income as a result. For 61,000 adults in New Hanover County, this world is a daily reality.
The Cape Fear Literacy Council works to change this. Today the Council received the state’s highest honor from the N.C. Center for Nonprofits. The Nonprofit Sector Stewardship Award recognizes organizations that use exemplary practices in their stewardship of the community’s trust and resources.
“We selected the Cape Fear Literacy Council because of its exceptional board governance, its evaluation of the difference it makes in people’s lives, and its careful financial management,” said Jane Kendall, president of the N.C. Center for Nonprofits. “It is an honor to recognize such a model of stewardship in the Cape Fear region.”
Illiteracy knows no bias. It affects parents, grandparents, employees, students, and retirees. Cape Fear Literacy Council recognizes how building literacy skills can help these individuals reach their goals and develop their full potential.
Childcare and transportation are common barriers for those learning English as a second language. To address these issues, the Council created a program that uses Skype, a free calling program with video that allows the tutor and student to interact face-to-face from different locations. It removes childcare and transportation barriers.
“Literacy is the root of so many problems, but many people do not recognize how pervasive it is,” said Karen Pappas of UNC-Wilmington, who serves as board president for the Council. “Our students are what drive us.”
The Council collaborates with many organizations across the region to extend its services to more people. “Nonprofits are masters at building partnerships to multiply what they can do with limited dollars,” said Kendall. The Council serves formerly incarcerated adults through its partnership with LINC (Leading into New Communities). It serves young people through YouthBuild, and it trains tutors to teach refugees through Interfaith Refugee Ministries.
Other partners include Division of Workforce Solutions, Phoenix Employment Ministry, Centro Latino/Amigos Internacional, New Hanover Public Schools, Wilmington Housing Authority, Cape Fear Community College, Winter Park Baptist Church, UNC-Wilmington, Department of Social Services, Vocational Rehab, New Hanover County Senior Center, New Hanover County Public Library and Blue Ribbon Commission/Youth Enrichment Zone.
“The more we get the word out to the community through these vital partnerships, the more people begin to understand why literacy is so important,” explained Linda Lytvineko, executive director of the Council. “We leave no stone unturned. The passion of our board, staff, and volunteers to reach and teach more is remarkable.”
“Our Council places great emphasis on developing the relationship between student and tutor,” explains Sarah Brooks Strassle, a volunteer since 2005. “Many of our students become our best spokespersons, eager to share their success stories.”
Good governance practices also earned the Cape Fear Literacy Council this distinction. Through UNC-W’s Quality Enhancement for Nonprofit Organizations (QENO), the Council’s board has participated in board governance training. QENO has also provided on-site consultations to enhance the board’s strategic planning, committee effectiveness and meeting efficiency.
“The Board fosters a can-do spirit. We strive to build an atmosphere of collegiality and teamwork with each other and with the staff,” said Pappas. ”As North Carolina’s law requires for nonprofits, our duty of care, duty of loyalty, and duty of obedience are the mantle for our board meetings and how we conduct ourselves in the community. We have grown to 17 board members, who commit in writing each year to their personal roles and responsibilities for the organization.”
The N.C. Center also praised the Council for recognizing that succession planning is important for any nonprofit. Board and staff work closely as a team to ensure that the Council has the resources and focus required to provide consistent services at the highest quality. The Council measures its impact through pre- and post-testing of each student. It shares the results with the community and funders.
“We also noted that the Council has an annual independent audit,” said Walter Davenport, a Raleigh CPA who serves as treasurer on the N.C. Center’s board and chairs United Way of the Greater Triangle.
“Good financial management is important for all nonprofits, which must continue to earn the public’s trust every day,” said Davenport. “The N.C. Center lifts up these good practices and trains nonprofits to do the right things the right way.”
Center board member Joni Davis of Charlotte added, “Evaluating results is something that strong organizations do. The N.C. Center publishes a checklist of specific benchmarks to help nonprofits to be effective and accountable.” Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence outlines good practices in nonprofit management, governance, and leadership (www.ncnonprofits.org/resources/principles).