Four years ago, Rick Ivey was flipping through a local magazine when he came across an advertisement about Literacy for Life, a program that assists adults in need with reading, writing, and language skills. Ivey felt compelled to sign up as a volunteer.
“The ad was inspiring to me,” Ivey recalls. “Literacy is also personal to me. Growing up, I had a grandmother who couldn’t read or write. Even as a small child, I could see the challenges she faced, even with life’s daily chores.”
So Rick decided to help others improve their literacy skills. He began dedicating his time to Literacy for Life as an instructor, teaching a conversation class for English as a Second Language (ESL) students. Class attendees ranged from young adults fresh out of high school to retirees from varying national and cultural backgrounds.
Discussions during the class geared toward American history, government, civics, and culture.
“The students had a real thirst to learn about America,” Ivey says.
The course evolved into one specifically about the history of the United States and remains one of the more popular classes at Literacy for Life. Ivey continues to teach the class, which is one-year long. Between 15-20 students turn out each week for a 90-minute session.
“We work our way through American history from Columbus to Barack Obama,” Ivey says.
As Ivey’s involvement with Literacy for Life grew, he began to notice some of the struggles of the program’s participants due to their lack of literacy skills.
Some of his students had a hard time finding work because of the literacy barrier, so last year, Ivey helped develop a career readiness course for Literacy for Life. He used his background as a sales executive with Forest Productions, where he worked closely with staff on recruiting, hiring, training, and mentoring employees for 30 years before retiring in 1999.
The career readiness class offers tips on where and how to look for work; how to read a job description; how to write a resume; how to dress and what to do during a job interview; and how to network.
“We’ve had people who’ve found work as a result of the skills and strategies they’ve learned in the class,” Ivey says with a smile. “There is no better feeling than to see the students succeed.”
Ivey was named Literacy for Life’s Volunteer of the Year in 2015 for his role with the program, but he remains humbled by it.
“Whatever I do here is a labor of love,” Ivey says. “I was honored to be chosen, but it’s a real team effort. We have a really great staff here.”
He loves the students just as much.
“It’s all about the learners for me,” he says. “They make it all worthwhile. They put so much effort into it. I get back so much more than I give.”
Roughly 300 volunteers help more than 800 learners at Literacy for Life. Ivey hopes to be a part of the program for as long as he can and would love to have others involved. Just like the students, instructors and tutors come from all backgrounds and all walks of life.
“I am delighted to be a part of Literacy for Life,” Ivey says. “It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”