Organizing a Family Literacy Center


Manager, Family Literacy Centers, inc.


Organizing a Family Literacy Center can be one of

the most rewarding achievements of a lifetime.  

To prepare, find out all you can about Family

Literacy.  Take the opportunity to tour one or

more Centers

and talk to other directors, or visit the Family

Literacy Center web site at  


Read the materials that have been prepared or

visit with the Family Literacy board or staff

members.  Family Literacy’s web site supplies a

wealth of information on obtaining funding,

writing proposals, working with schools and civic groups, finding and training tutors, identifying

and assessing students,

and so on.


Another thing you can do is view all the training

videos also found on our website.  With this background you will be ready to proceed.  

Remember that staff members from Family

Literacy Centers, Incorporated are available to

advise and assist in starting and operating



To insure success in organizing a Family Literacy Center, a number of steps should be followed.  

These steps vary somewhat depending upon circumstances.  For example, the procedure for opening school centers is may differ from civic

or library centers.  Also the steps don't always

follow a given order.  

This article will summarize some of the most

important actions that nearly every director

should consider.  


For details relating to your specific circumstances, it will be important to study the accompanying

booklet that is available on our website.  The

main steps are these:  


Present a proposal to community leaders or

school administration. The purpose is to explain

the program and gain support.  An example of a successful proposal is included in the print

materials.  A major concern is funding.  

Determine how much a center will cost and

where the money will come from.

Another obvious need is for space—for tutoring,

office, materials and equipment.  Even the

smallest center needs a few basic materials and furnishings.  Tables and chairs, computers, copy machines, white boards, paper and pencils, filing cabinets, and of course, books.

Decide how many individuals will be served and

how they will be identified. Determine how many people will be needed to direct the program.  A secretary or assistant director can contribute

greatly to your success.   Organize a literacy

board consisting of influential and interested

people from the community.

Since one-on-one tutoring is vital to program

success, develop a strategy for recruiting and

training volunteers.

Finally, because parent support is essential, plan

a strategy for informing and working with parents.  We’ll briefly discuss each of these steps in turn.

A first step is gaining support, often through a presentation to community leaders or school administrators and teachers.  The presentation

should be brief, clear, and very well prepared.  

An example of such a presentation is included in

the booklet accompanying this article.

Since a center is a group effort, it’s wise to

establish a relationship with those who will

listen to your proposal so that you can adapt the presentation to them.  If you are organizing a

Center in a library or civic building you’ll want to

meet the mayor or members of the city council.  

If you’re establishing a school center seek the

support of the principal and teachers.  

To convince prospective partners of the need

for a Center, consider collecting data on the

literacy needs of local children and families.  

This data helps immensely in gaining support

and funding.

Concerning funding, it helps at the outset to know what kind of money a center requires.  Of course, costs vary with individual centers, but here are

some ballpark figures.  First-year costs range

from about $10,000 to $30,000, depending on

the number of paid staff and equipment and how much will be donated by an organization or

individual.  Much of this represents a one-time

cost, making the first year the most expensive.  

Those expenses include about four thousand

dollars for supplies, materials and equipment.  

Here are some estimates for specific needs: Development and training, approximately one thousand dollars.  Salary for a director ranges between five hundred to a thousand dollars a

month.  Some centers, however, have been able

to manage with less.  Where does the money

come from?  Schools sometimes have district and state funds available.  Cities often have money available in their budgets.  Private donors can be a great resource.  In most cases, getting the money requires writing a grant.  Many of our directors

have become very skillful at writing grants.  

Lots of help is available.  An example of a

successful grant is included in the print materials available on our website.

Directors learn to be creative in raising money.  Finances need to be tracked and managed

carefully.  For this reason we recommend

engaging an accounting office to facilitate the

payroll and accounting.  The fee is approximately

1.5 per cent of the funds in the account.

Also, a nonprofit organization, such as Family

Literacy needs a 501 (c) 3 status.  

This designation allows donors to receive tax incentives.  Many Centers have been created

under the umbrella of Family Literacy Centers Inc.  

If your organization desires to apply for this status, detailed information can be found both in the handbook and on various websites.  

Several sites are listed in your training manual.

As funding is being explored, it's necessary to

locate the space, such as in a library, a

community center, or senior citizens' center.  

If you are opening a center in a school, you

need a room available after school hours.  In our crowded schools, space is often a challenge.  

Often, a little creativity solves a problem.

If you have to start small, remember that some programs began in a school closet.  As the

program expanded, they moved first to a small

room in an old city library, then to a church, and finally to state of the art quarters in a new city


Whether in a school or community facilities a

Center needs furnishings and materials, the

amount depending upon the situation and the

number of students. You’ll need tables and chairs,

of course, as well as other furniture and equipment.  

A school may already have much of this.

 A community center might have less.

Reading materials are a must.  The basis is a

set of Family Readers from Family Literacy

Centers, Inc.  Along with basic readers, the

program has available other books on various

subjects and reading levels.  If this represents

too large an investment, books can be

obtained from schools, libraries, private

collections, auctions, or thrift stores.

 Assessment tools are essential in placing

students and evaluating progress and needs.  

Family Literacy Centers materials list several

evaluation tools.  

For writing, white boards and felt tipped colored

erase markers are very useful.  If there's money,

plan to purchase computers, computer software,

and other training materials available from Family Literacy Centers, Inc.  

Naturally you’ll need basic office equipment and supplies—a computer for the office, a printer and

copy machine.  Also paper, pens and pencils, stationary and stamps, sticky notes, record books

and so on.  Also helpful are training materials

prepared by Family Literacy Center Inc., and

available at very low cost—binders, videos and

CD's to assist with parent and tutor training.  

Various print materials and manuals are also


Early on a director needs to have an idea how

many children and adults will be using the Center

and how to identify them.   School teachers are a good source of information.  So are parents at

PTA meetings.   A simple advertisement in a local newspaper will bring in students.  If you start a program with a handful of children, you’ll find

that others will soon come.  The challenge is

usually too many students rather than too few.   

As the program expands, you may need additional staff.  Besides a director it may be helpful to

engage a tutor trainer, a secretary and perhaps

other assistants.  At this point additional funds for salaries may be needed. Because recruiting and training tutors is a large responsibility, a staff

member in charge of tutors can be of great help.  

Also, the work is much lighter with the help of a literacy board. These volunteers form committees

for finances, tutors, students, out-reach programs, community awareness and the like.  A governing board is necessary for non-profit status.  Board members should be people who are friendly to the cause of literacy and skilled in the areas of public relations, finances, and legal affairs.  

Guidelines for who can become members are

given in the bylaws.  An advisory board is also

helpful in expanding administrative capabilities - especially in the areas of fund-raising, graduation ceremonies, and in equipment and facilities procurement.  They are also helpful in securing community awareness and support.

An important step in setting up the program is recruiting and training tutors.  Tutors can be

recruited from a number of sources.  One

successful director, in her characteristically

determined manner, has been known to stop

potential tutors on the street.  Others have been successful recruiting from local colleges or high schools, and from local senior centers or local churches.

Once tutors are recruited, they are matched with students, taking into consideration interests and backgrounds.  A director or tutor trainer orients prospective tutors and teaches them their responsibilities.  Tutors must be oriented and then taught how to keep accurate records ,how to

relate to students in a positive manner, and how

to teach reading and writing effectively.

To accomplish this, the trainer models a lesson

and then observes as tutor and student work

together.  Also, Family Literacy Inc. has produced

a variety of print and video materials with valuable suggestions for tutoring.

The tutor training videos are also extremely

helpful in explaining the program, providing

teaching models, and suggesting ways to relate to students.  Tutoring is not difficult.  Anyone who

can read and is a caring person willing to learn

some basic skills, can tutor.  They just need the confidence to try.

Programs work better with the cooperation of

parents.  They need to understand how much

their child’s progress depends on help and encouragement at home.  Parents desiring help

may come to the FLC and have their children’s

reading ability assessed.  A program may then be recommended for the children and a tutor

assigned.  Parents are usually very enthusiastic

and eager to cooperate because they so desire

their child’s success.  A few, however, are absent, uninvolved, or don’t know what to do.  

Then what?  Parent training videos are helpful in

many cases.

It’s wise to establish some guidelines and parent expectations from the beginning.  

When expectations are not always fulfilled,

a positive attitude goes a long way with parents.  

The beauty of the program is that as step-by

step lessons are taught, parents strengthen

their own reading and writing skills, thus

benefiting the entire family.

This article has explained briefly the main steps required in setting up a Center.  As we’ve indicated, specific details can be found in the training manual.

 A previous article in this series has shown how to manage a Center on a daily basis.