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ProLiteracy, also known as ProLiteracy Worldwide, is an international nonprofit organization based in Syracuse, N.Y., that supports the people and programs that help adults learn to read and write. ProLiteracy, the largest adult literacy and basic education membership organization in the nation, believes that a safer, stronger, and more sustainable society starts with an educated adult population. For more than 50 years, the organization has been working with people and organizations across the globe to build that society—and to create a world where every person can read and write. ProLiteracy is committed to creating a world in which all adults are literate. It works with adult new readers and learners and with local and national organizations to help adults gain the reading, writing, math, computer, and English skills they need to be successful. ProLiteracy advocates on behalf of adult learners and the programs that serve them, provides training and professional development, and publishes materials used in adult literacy and basic education instruction. ProLiteracy has 1,000 member programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and works with 52 nongovernmental organizations in 34 developing countries.
ProLiteracy was formed when Laubach Literacy International and Literacy Volunteers of America, Inc. merged in 2002.
Laubach Literacy International’s history begins in 1930, when Dr. Frank C. Laubach was a missionary among the Maranao people of the Philippines. His concern about their poor living conditions led him to conclude that the ability to read and write was essential for them to begin to solve their problems. As the Maranaos learned to read, they would, in turn, teach other adults on a one-to-one basis that became known as “Each One Teach One.” From 1935 to 1967, Dr. Laubach visited 105 countries answering calls for literacy help and created reading lessons in 315 languages. He founded Laubach Literacy International in Syracuse, N.Y. in 1955.
For years, literacy as a global mission interested Ruth Johnson Colvin. She had heard Dr. Laubach speak about illiteracy in faraway countries, but she didn’t consider it a problem in America. So she was shocked when she read a 1961 Syracuse Post-Standard newspaper article that stated there were over 11,000 people in her county who could not read or write well (based on 1960 U.S. Census figures). She began speaking with local social service agencies, community leaders, and church groups about the problem. With the help of reading experts, she developed a means to train volunteers to tutor adults. In 1962, she started Literacy Volunteers of America, Inc.
ProLiteracy believes every adult has a right to literacy. ProLiteracy develops and promotes adult literacy learning, content, programs and advocacy to help adult learners.
ProLiteracy’s Programs division works in the U.S. and around the world. ProLiteracy has grassroots partner programs in developing countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. ProLiteracy provides training, technical assistance, and targeted local grants to support tailored programs that combine literacy with economic self-reliance, health, education, peace, human rights, and environmental sustainability projects.
In the U.S., ProLiteracy represents 1,000 community-based volunteer and adult basic education affiliates in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. ProLiteracy accredits programs and supports them with technical assistance and program and professional development services online, in regional trainings, and at a biennial conference. ProLiteracy also serves as an advocate for issues related to adult literacy and lifelong learning.
New Readers Press, ProLiteracy’s publishing house, generates $7 million in revenue annually through the sale of materials used in teaching adults and older teens. Proceeds from these sales support the services that ProLiteracy offers to literacy practitioners. News for You, published by New Readers Press, is a weekly online and print news source for English language learners and basic literacy students.
The National Book Fund (NBF) gives grants of New Readers Press books and materials directly to local literacy service providers. The NBF provides books for family literacy programs that work with parents and children, English-as-a-second-language (ESL) programs, adult basic education initiatives, and women-focused programming.
ProLiteracy began its Women In Literacy (WIL) initiative in 1991 in response to the particular needs of women. Cultural traditions and local laws often favor men, allowing them access to education, property, employment, health care, and participation in government that is denied to women. ProLiteracy's Women in Literacy initiative gives women the literacy skills they need to understand and change their daily lives. Women hold key leadership positions in more than 80 percent of WIL partner programs.
About 60 percent of ProLiteracy’s funding comes from sales of its educational materials. About 35 percent comes from private sources, including individuals, corporations, and foundations. The remainder comes from affiliate dues and investment income.
In 2011, more than 81 percent of donor contributions were allocated to program expenses.
A 2005 report by the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance (WGA) found that ProLiteracy met all of its standards for charity accountability. The WGA found that ProLiteracy is truthful in its representations of how money is spent, does not allocate an excessive part of its budget for fundraising or administrative expenses, and makes its financial statements readily available to the public.
Reports by Charity-monitoring Organizations
- BBB Wise Giving Alliance Report: ProLiteracy Worldwide
- GuideStar Basic Report: ProLiteracy Worldwide (registration required)
- Literacy Florida!
- "Ruth J. Colvin". Proliteracy.org. 2010. Retrieved December 18, 2010.