In 2009, a group of 19 different program leaders from literacy programs around Chicago got together informally over coffee to talk about their work.
During that conversation, one of the program leaders said, “I am running a creative writing program at Schiller Elementary, and I can’t get the principal to return my phone calls. Does anyone have a good email address for him?”
Another leader said, “I am also running a creative writing program at Schiller Elementary.”
And yet another leader said, “me too.”
In the end it was discovered that all of the organizations represented that day were running programs at Schiller Elementary School, which had 200 students, and none of them had any idea that the others were there. They were passing each other in the hallway on a regular basis.
This was what we call “The Schiller Moment” and was the founding of the Chicago Literacy Alliance. This was the clarifying moment that literacy programs needed to communicate strategically, build community between organizations, and increase the capacity of their teams in order to be more efficient and effective.
Chicago was a prime candidate for increased impact: 49% of 4th graders scored at below basic levels of reading proficiency, and 30% of its adults (880,000 people) would have benefited from basic adult literacy services.
Our initial programs were focused on bringing literacy organizations together to share and brainstorm solutions to common problems. We then moved toward developing collaborative programs that would provide the community with improved and coordinated literacy services. We have always operated with big, exciting ideas in mind, and in 2015 we opened the Literacenter, a 41,000 square foot coworking space dedicated to literacy—the first of its kind. The space brings literacy programs together in a fun, positive environment that features meeting rooms named with book puns, such as Roomeo and Juliet, Literacooters, and more—leading it to be affectionately nicknamed a “Disneyworld for word nerds”. We provide affordable offices, meeting rooms, program space, and fun/recreational space for events and social gatherings. The Literacenter is boosting morale and lowering overhead and turnover for our member organizations.
When we opened the Literacenter in 2015, we had 18 members. Today we have 118. Those members are regularly meeting, sharing best practices, developing partnerships, and collaborating within our walls. Our members represent extensive practical knowledge and expertise in every category of literacy programming, and by facilitating creative and effective collaboration among them, we are dedicated to achieving a 100% literate Chicago.
September is National Literacy Month, so we hope you will seek out your local literacy organizations to find out how you can get involved. If you are in Chicago, please come to the Literacenter for our State of Literacy Symposium on September 28!