AWC Detroit has made a commitment to promote literacy — collectively with our Driving Literacy in the D campaign and individually through volunteerism.

Member Joan Allesee has volunteered as a tutor, facilitator and instructional designer at the Oakland Literacy Council (OLC). Currently, she is on the Council’s board of directors.

Here’s how she got involved…

It was a hot day in August of 2014, when along with 22 other bewildered adults, I tried to read these words: mxxxxxxn, hixx, yxxx

We had come to the Oakland Literacy Council to learn how to tutor adult literacy students. I was intrigued, but also searched the room for ways to slide out unnoticed at the first break because I wasn’t sure I was up to the task.

What I did know is that I had a little time to volunteer while I reengineered my career, took graduate classes and finished raising my children.

Next, we read this passage that a student wrote to his tutor describing his day:

I bay sitd to daey my grannd kites. I wths vree hape.

We also heard literacy students tell of their plight:

  • One described the heart break of having to fake reading her Mother’s Day cards. She also described her dependence on others to read street signs aloud and the struggle of memorizing landmarks to learn her way around her own community.
  • Another student explained how he relied on coworkers to describe job information. At home his wife managed all the correspondence and paid all the bills. All the while, he kept his illiteracy a secret from his own children.

And then I cried a little and decided to stay. How could I leave when these adult students did not grow up reading?

My children were raised to read. We spent endless hours selecting stacks of library books and jamming them into tote bags to haul home. How was it possible for these students not to have their own favorite childhood reading memories?

I’m glad I stayed. Teaching someone to read, write and even speak English, if needed, is rewarding beyond words and by volunteering, I am helping to battle the literacy issue that we are facing as a nation. Low literacy affects 35 million adults in the United States which is 18 percent of the population.

Motivated to Do More

A few months after I began meeting with my student, I saw that the OLC could use a little more help, so I raised my hand and took on facilitating the tutor training workshop. Subsequently, I trained others to facilitate with me.

More time passed and I was working away on my graduate courses and tutoring my student each week when I had a little brain storm. I recently learned how to use software to create eLearning. So, I designed an online course for the tutors which reduced their classroom training time.

Five years have passed since I attended my own tutor training. I still volunteer as a facilitator, an instructional designer, and now as a proud new board member.

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Joan Allesee has over 25 years of experience creating and facilitating training. In 2016, she completed her M.S. in instructional design on-line at Quinnipiac University. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Michigan. Find her on LinkedIn.


Volunteer Opportunities:

This year AWC Detroit’s literacy initiative, “Driving Literacy in the D,” will shine a spotlight on the Detroit Public Library’s Parkman Coders, Westside Christian Academy and The Mercy Education Project. All three organizations are experiencing amazing success in advancing literacy. 

To get involved, contact the chapter’s office at 

The Oakland Literacy Council provides basic literacy and English language instruction to adults in order to facilitate lifelong learning, employment skills and personal well-being. All Oakland County residents deserve to have the skills, knowledge, and understanding needed to flourish in today’s complex and interconnected world. 

To learn more about becoming a tutor for the Oakland Literacy Council, click here.