Literacy Volunteers of the Tarrytowns:   A Brief History 1973 - 2011

In 1973, disturbed by census figures that showed a large number of functional illiterates in the Tarrytowns, Selma Shill of the Warner Library began looking into the work of Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA). Two affiliates of LVA were then operating in Westchester. A decision was made to form a library-sponsored affiliate in the Tarrytowns.

The following spring, people in the community interested in the adult literacy movement were invited to a meeting at Warner Library. About twenty people responded, and in June 1974 a provisional affiliate was organized and named Literacy Volunteers of the Tarrytowns (LVT). Selma Shill and June Schermerhorn, an early volunteers, worked together to build a strong organization. They are recognized as co-founders. The Friends of the Warner Library and the Library Board of Trustees gave financial support.

LVT’s first basic reading workshop, held in October 1974, graduated twenty-two volunteer tutors. The organization’s focus soon shifted, however, from basic reading to English as a Second Language (ESL). Immigration from many lands had given the Tarrytowns a colorful ethnic diversity and resulted in a large number of adult residents who did not speak English as their native language. In the spring of 1975, LVT held its first ESL tutor workshop and awarded ten persons certificates as volunteer ESL tutors.

Over the next few years, LVT continued training tutors and teaching students. Its active volunteer membership reached out to an ever-widening circle of people in need of help. The library provided a small office and space for tutoring, workshops, and meetings. The Friends of the Library renewed their financial assistance for many years, and grants from a local foundation supported the purchase of books and teaching materials. Later, other foundations made annual grants.

In 1978, LVT became a permanent affiliate of Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA) and adopted a constitution. In 1979, construction plans for a new wing at the Warner Library included a tutoring center with four teaching cubicles and space for LVT’s collection of teaching materials. A generous gift from Paul and Martin Sanders made it possible to equip the tutoring center. A plaque honoring the donors was dedicated in 1986. An endowment established in 1986 in memory of former president and workshop coordinator Bill Gillim has enabled LVT to provide dictionaries for all its students for the past two decades.

As LVT continued its work, other LVA affiliates were serving other Westchester communities: Mount Vernon, Northern Westchester, and the Rivertowns, began as a satellite of LVT. New affiliates were organized in the county under the sponsorship of the Westchester Library System. In the mid 1980s, Literacy Volunteers of Westchester County (LVW) was established, and it absorbed most of the local affiliates. By 1991, LVT was the only remaining autonomous local affiliate in the county. It cooperated with LVW in workshop referrals and tutor training but opted to remain an independent all-volunteer organization.

LVT was incorporated in September 1990. A new constitution reflecting its corporate status was adopted by the membership in 1991. In 2002, LVT satisfied stringent requirements to became an accredited affiliate of LVA. More changes soon followed. When LVA merged with Laubach Literacy to form ProLiteracy Worldwide, LVT became a member of ProLiteracy America, the national branch of the new organization. LVT amended its constitution in 2003-2004 to reflect this new relationship. It also applied for and received its own 501(c)(3) exemption, to replace the group exemption it had enjoyed under LVA.

In 2005-2006, LVT pursued and was granted ProLiteracy accreditation for another four years. A committee prepared a documented presentation and met with a site visitor in June 2006. Also in that year, LVT computerized its records, created a small office at the Warner Library, and established its own website.

LVT opened in 2006 with a congratulatory message from ProLiteracy, saying that LVT had been accredited for another four years.

LVT received reaccreditation in 2011 and reinstituted the tradition of awarding 1, 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 year service pins to tutors.  A program of awarding certificates to students for attending 16 hours of lessons in a two month reporting period was launched.

As of June 30, 2011, LVT had 87 members. Its tutors taught 61 students during the year for a total of 2,114 hours. Volunteers also contributed 1,179 hours in meetings, workshops, and administrative work.