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Interview with Linda P. Lytvinenko, June 16, 2009 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Linda P. Lytvinenko, June 16, 2009
June 16, 2009
Ms. Lytvinenko discusses her work with the Cape Fear Literacy Council and other programs in the community including work with the Sunshine Ladies Foundation which was founded by Doris Buffett, sister of famous financial investor Warren Buffet.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Lytvinenko, Linda P. Interviewer: Jones, Carroll / Edwards, Deborah Date of Interview: 6/16/2009 Series: SENC Notables Length 50 minutes

Jones: Tuesday, June 16, 2009. I'm Carroll Jones with Debbie Edwards for the University of North Carolina Oral History Project. This is the University of North Carolina, Wilmington Oral History Project. We are in the Helen Hagen Room in Special Collections. Our guest this morning is Linda Patton, now Linda Lytvinenko. Lytvinenko?

Lytvinenko: Right, Lytvinenko.

Jones: With the Cape Fear Literacy Council. There are so many parts of this organization covering needs for literacy and ways for volunteers in non-instructional volunteering as well as tutoring basic skills. One of the promotional piece's headline suggests "unlock your future." I think that's a great headline. Good morning Linda.

Lytvinenko: Good morning Carroll, how are you?

Jones: I'm well, thank you. Let's start off by you telling a little bit about yourself and how you became involved with this program.

Lytvinenko: Okay. I've actually been involved with nonprofit sort of education things since I graduated from college, from Duke back in the '70s. And I've been with the Literacy Council about five years. I'm the second executive director. The founder, Billie Granger, started as a Vista volunteer back in the '70s. And Billie was a meat and potatoes, back to basics person, no muss, no fuss, with a backbone of steel, and persevered to turn this organization into one of the flagship Literacy Councils in the state.

Jones: Now, how did she start this? On her own?

Lytvinenko: She actually was affiliated with the Wilmington Baptist Association.

Jones: Okay.

Lytvinenko: And for a while, when it was just a little volunteer operation, it was part of that organization. And in 1985, became its own independent chartered nonprofit. So we are actually going to celebrate our 25th year next year.

Jones: Really? Going to have a celebration?

Lytvinenko: Well yeah. We have a celebration all the time, but we've got a really big celebration planned. And my background is not in literacy, per se. My work has been in higher education. I have worked at Duke University, at Western Carolina University. When I was a graduate student at UNCG, I did work there as an intern.

Jones: In education?

Lytvinenko: In education. You know, or administrativethings. At Duke I worked in the provost's budget office, I worked in the medical center's special events office.

Jones: Oh my gosh.

Lytvinenko: My most long-term and probably most meaningful bit was working as an executive assistant to the dean of the business school. And picked up a huge amount of knowledge on business and advertising.

Jones: I can imagine.

Lytvinenko: Dean Keller was my biggest mentor. But worked there, and then when I went to UNCG, and I said I'm going to--

Jones: And when did you go to UNCG?

Lytvinenko: I went the two years before I turned 40, saying I want to have a master's and I want to be helping people in the community by the time I'm 40. At that time, I had been working in the business school helping Dean Keller and working with distinguished speakers, bringing in executives, helping MBA students get where they were going. I said, "You know what? MBA students can do just fine without me, and I need to be out in the community doing more of a community service thing." So left (inaudible)

Jones: Well, I'm asking for a reason about UNCG. At one time in the late '90s, early 2000s, it was deemed one of the top schools in the country for education.

Lytvinenko: Okay. Well I was there from '93 to '95, and I was in the Human Development and Family Study Department.

Jones: Okay.

Lytvinenko: It's a really neat combo of a bit of education, a bit of development, a bit of psychology. Brings it all together so that you're looking at--

Jones: You were just a fit for this.

Lytvinenko: You're looking at people from birth to death.

Jones: Yeah.

Lytvinenko: Sort of all of their changes and relationships and growth and development. And as I finished at UNCG, my husband and I were living in Durham and we said, "You know, we've always meant to retire to the beach." But no kids were coming, and we decided no kids, why are we waiting for kids, let's go now. So we relocated to Holden Beach, where I still live.

Jones: Oh my gosh.

Lytvinenko: You know how different parts of life fit together. The guy who was painting our house had a wife who was leaving the children's program at Hope Harbor Domestic Violence Shelter in Brunswick County. And I applied for that position, and before I even landed I was working as the children's coordinator at Hope Harbor.

Jones: I'll be darned.

Lytvinenko: And that was my first paid human services thing. I volunteered in child abuse situations. I had been on boards, chaired boards and been a direct service volunteer.

Jones: Excuse me, you were at Hope Harbor?

Lytvinenko: Yes.

Jones: You were director now?

Lytvinenko: Of children's. Coordinator of the children's.

Jones: Coordinator.

Lytvinenko: So I worked with the kids. And that involved some amount of interaction with the parents, but the kids were my focus.

Jones: Yeah, I know what that is. I'm on the domestic violence board here.

Lytvinenko: And that led me in a direction. There have been a little, a few twists and turns along the way, but domestic violence was a large part of my work over the years. Worked there, not too long. Had a philosophical difference with the executive director and I left. I couldn't follow the lack of protocols we had for protecting confidentiality. Took a little bit of time, and then did some work with communities and schools, family resource center in Leland, helping them get started. Left that. This is the blip, but it's an important one. I left there when that consulting job was over and worked for Wagner Gourmet Foods here in Wilmington.

Jones: My gosh.

Lytvinenko: Which was the old roast spice company that Steadman Stevens had bought, and Wagner Gourmet Foods. And was sort of a project manager. I helped steer new products along. I actually got to write the copy on all the boxes of tea and of all of the spices. So if you ever get a Wagner Gourmet tea box, that's my words on the back. It's really kind of one of those--

Jones: Is that with two Gs or one? One.

Lytvinenko: One. W-A-G-N-E-R. It has since been bought by Williams Foods, which does Wolferman's Biscuits, etc.

Jones: Okay. That was Wagner, what tea?

Lytvinenko: Wagner Gourmet Foods.

Jones: Gourmet Foods, okay. Because that's not familiar to me.

Lytvinenko: Well, they're no longer here in town. When they got bought by Williams, they've been moved to the Midwest. That was sort of an outlet for creativity, you know, writing tea boxes and descriptions on the spice jars and helping create new products. That was really fun.

Jones: Oh my gosh, it would be kind of fun.

Lytvinenko: One of the things we did there, this is sort of how one thing leads to another. We bought Carolina Swamp Stuff, which was a set of specialty cooking sauces that were up in Morehead city. And I was one of the team that helped transition that little company into our bigger company. As part of that, I met a lady named Maryellen Box, who was a volunteer with a thing called the Sunshine Lady Foundation, which was a foundation that Doris Buffett, who was Warren Buffett's sister, had started in Morehead City to try to focus on helping kids who don't have the advantages of many other kids to have good role models, to focus on education, to have opportunities to grow and develop and become strong people.

Jones: Ms. Buffett's first name was what?

Lytvinenko: Doris.

Jones: Doris.

Lytvinenko: Doris Buffett.

Jones: And this was in Morehead City?

Lytvinenko: It was in Morehead City, and it's called the Sunshine Lady Foundation.

Jones: Got that.

Lytvinenko: So through that conversation I said, "Gee, Mary Ellen, I would really like to be involved with that. I'm no longer involved with domestic violence, and I think Doris is starting something up and that I'd love to be a volunteer." So I did a couple special projects for Doris so she could check me out and see if I was--what I was. And ended up opening an office here in Wilmington for her. She had a home in Wilmington as well at that time. And so we opened her office for the Women's Independent Scholarship Program, which I then directed that program for a while. And that was charged with giving scholarships to survivors of domestic violence so that they could go back to school, or to school a first time, or learn a trade, whatever it is so that they can become self-supporting and not have to go back to their abusers for financial reasons. And Doris, in addition to that, I ran some scholarship programs in Brunswick County, and camp programs for the disadvantaged kids, and then some just general humanitarian things. And that was a remarkable part of my life. And learned so much from Doris, she's a not run-of-the-mill philanthropist. And I've learned how to be a grantor. You know we do reviews--

Jones: That's a tough job.

Lytvinenko: Yeah. It is really. Some people say "Oh, I'd love to be able to give money away." Well Doris is an investor of money, not a giver away. And when you have hundreds of letters coming to you with all sorts of sad stories, it's real difficult to pick out--

Jones: Which ones are real.

Lytvinenko: --are legitimate, which ones are most deserving. Doris was the kind, and still is the kind of person that doesn't just say "Sure. I feel badly for you, you've had bad luck, here's some money." There's something attached to it." I will supplement your adult son's paycheck if he will go get a job. But if he's not working, no money."

Jones: That's the only way to do it.

Lytvinenko: And scholarship students, no tattoos. No piercings other than ears. You must maintain a grade point average, you must agree not to drink while you're in school or do drugs. Very much, she took her values and demanded that those who wanted her money go with those. And if they didn't follow her values, you don't have to ask for the money.

Jones: No, I think that's reasonable. They're getting something for free, but behave yourself.

Lytvinenko: It's her investment. And her other requirement is that when she--

Jones: Warren Buffett's sister.

Lytvinenko: When she invests in you and gives to you, that when you have the means, you give back as well. That's part of her conditions. So that office is still going on here in Wilmington. And the scholarships for domestic violence--

Jones: The Sunshine Lady Foundation?

Lytvinenko: Well, actually, the WISP, the Women's Independent Scholarship Program is what's operating here in town. Doris runs her foundation now out of Fredericksburg, where she lives, in Virginia.

Jones: Okay.

Lytvinenko: But anyway, that was just a wonderful opportunity to learn how to give back when there are financial means available, and to watch how you can balance a big heart and great compassion with rational thinking and planning for the future. It's just really great. Not too long into that time, my husband died.

(cell phone rings)

(break in audio)

Lytvinenko: We have volunteers. Most of our work is done--oh, they're trained. Our tutors are trained. We are certified by Pro Literacy, which is the national and actually international accrediting and adult literacy organization. We have Shirley Morrow, who is our lead trainer, has been doing this for years, and is known across the state as kind of the model trainer. And so she helps us train our tutors. We have a whole training team that works there now. Our key is really one-on-one tutoring. If you think about it, if you have made it to adulthood and you either can't read at all or you can't read well enough, chances are, there was a glitch in your formal education. And either you were passed through grades or you did well enough to get by, or whatever it was. If we break out of sort of the formal classroom structure, and are doing one-on-one where it's a personal trainer, say for reading, we could help you focus on whatever went wrong for you. Whatever that might have been. So our trainers meet once or twice a week for an hour, an hour and a half with their students, focusing on whether it's comprehension or spelling or even dyslexic, whatever it is. Figuring out what the heck got in the way of their learning and how can we fix that. So that's the main way that we teach, particularly adult basic literacy.

Jones: Let's go to these trainers, the tutors. What kind of training do they get? And how are they selected, that's the first thing.

Lytvinenko: We advertise for volunteers. And what we usually get-- in the old days, we would get mostly retired people. Now we have sort of the whole age gamut, from people who are not so far out of college but feeling they want to be involved in the community up to retired folks. And they sign up for our orientation session. We have pretty much everyone, CFLC101. We take two hours to acquaint you with our organization, who we are, what we do, who are students are, how we do it. Get sort of the general information out of the way. We talk about volunteer opportunities. We give sort of a little bit of a glimpse of what students might be like and the kinds of situations or circumstances you might be facing in tutoring. And then if people are still interested, they come back and they take our training. It's usually in three-hour segments, four sessions. So you would come Mondays and Wednesdays, three hours a pop, four times.

Jones: And they work one on one?

Lytvinenko: Well, this training is just classroom situation.

Jones: But when they're through?

Lytvinenko: They usually work one on one.

Jones: They don't work with a group?

Lytvinenko: There also are small classes. We're finding that while the one-on-one tutoring is the most important thing that we do, when that is supplemented with some small class things, there is also the opportunity for students to bounce off each other and learn that way as well. We will never do big classes. Our classes are maybe five, maybe ten people. We start our students with what we call a study skills class. Many of them have been out of school for a long, long time or had a terrible experience in there. And we try to reacquaint them with how you need to proceed when you're trying to learn to read. You're going to need to be on time. You're going to need to follow through. You're going to need to do your homework. You're going to need to whatever. We talk a little bit about the different components of literacy, comprehension and fluidity, etcetera, and help them understand where the breakdown might have been. So that they understand it's not that they are incapable, it's that some piece of the puzzle that you need to be able to read either was missing for them or backwards or something. So that they can come into their learning knowing that we know what is likely going on. Now they know, and together we can work on it.

Jones: I'm thinking of all the things for someone that it's necessary to read, even from applying from a driver's license to a passport, to a job. How did these people get through their life to let's say middle age, or 20s, or 80 years old?

Lytvinenko: Well, you know that the human spirit adapts and perseveres and finds ways to adjust to whatever's going on. You figure that if you can't read from the time you are in third grade up, you pretty much had to hide that because people would think you were stupid, ignorant, ridicule you, make fun of you and the natural protection is to not let people know. So by the time you're an adult, you have figured out coping mechanisms to deal with that. You may get other people to read for you. We get many people who ask their spouse to read things for them. We have many people who-- picture if you're going down the street and you need to know what street you're at. You don't know the letters, but you can see what Market Street looks like as an image, as sort of like a picture instead as component parts.

Jones: I guess so.

Lytvinenko: So you will memorize that. That's imprinted in your brain. And when you see that, you know that's where you have to go.

Jones: Yeah.

Lytvinenko: People who can't read have huge amounts of memorization skills. We had one guy who memorized the whole electrician's manual. They hear it, they take it in, and they remember it, because they're not going to have a chance to go back.

Jones: So the human brain is compensating.

Lytvinenko: So they just figure it out. There are a lot of people who--I mean, they often will just get other people to read for them. Or we had one fellow who was heading a maintenance thing at a hotel. And he, when he would get his work orders, he would crumple them up and throw them away, and then call up the person and say, "You know, that work order you gave me, I can't find it. Can you just tell me what it said." So as it comes in, again, he's remembering what was said. They just find ways to get around the fact that they can't read.

Jones: How do they finally get to you?

Lytvinenko: Well, they get to us lots of different ways. Usually something is pressing on them in their lives. They're at work, and if they want to keep their job or get a promotion, they have to take a test, can't read to take the test. Their kids are starting school, and two things are going on. They don't want to have their kids read when they can't. How embarrassing is that? Or they want to be able to read what comes home from the school. At school, we had one student who a note came home and they were ready to blast their kid for getting in trouble. Turns out, it was inviting them to come watch their child receive an award at school. Couldn't read it. But they'll come to us, something is pushing on them. And it's kind of--you may remember from your work in domestic violence, there's a window of vulnerability. When somebody is at a spot where they're not in their comfort zone, that's the best time to get help. So when people are in that situation and come to us, we test them right away, and we figure out what we're doing with them and get started. People will hear about us from friends, from coworkers, from their place of employment. They very often can't read. The little brochure you said that, "unlock your future" has very few words in it, easy for people to read. We are right now having exceptionally wonderful luck with the radio, with the local radio.

Jones: I can understand that.

Lytvinenko: One of the local broadcasting companies has kind of adopted us. And they are playing on all six stations repeatedly a commercial of one of our students talking about how his life has changed. And says, "I'm Bill, and it was my turn, but now it's your turn. Come to Cape Fear Literacy." And we have had an influx of students and tutors come from that.

Jones: That's marvelous. That's marvelous. Are they ever recommended by high school teachers, for example, who recognizes a student?

Lytvinenko: Well, since we deal mostly out of school age.

Jones: Well, okay. Beyond that even.

Lytvinenko: Social services may recommend. The Job Link Career Center may recommend. Sometimes Coastal Horizons. You figure anywhere where somebody is in a life situation that is pushed them down economically, where they're not in control of some part of their lives, chances are literacy is part of that. And if they're finding their way to other human service agencies, hopefully they'll get recommended to us. In our ESL side, where we're teaching English to immigrant population, there's a lot of word-of-mouth out there. If you're part of the Korean community in this town and one of your friends comes to us. And that's maybe where a lot of people are going to come. Same with Latinos, same with European, Asian, whatever it is. So there's just a lot of word of mouth as well. But we need to reach so much more. We've helped between four and five hundred people a year. There are 50,000 people in New Hanover County that need help with reading.

Jones: Is that right? We've got a population of what?

Lytvinenko: It's over 40 percent. If we're following the national statistics, which the national survey says they're looking at New Hanover County. We can certainly count on about 13 percent of our adult population being at the lower, lower, lower end of literacy skills. And then another 29 percent or so doing okay, but certainly not proficient and certainly not having all that they need to take care of their families, get good jobs, keep good jobs, be contributing members of the society, etcetera. It's a huge number, and that's part of our challenge, is helping the rest of the world realize that this is not a little problem out there. If you are trying to solve any human ill, domestic violence, mental health, unemployment, dropout rate, whatever it is, reading's part of that. Reading at some level is part of that.

Jones: I've always heard and I've always been a believer that reading is the basis of all education anyway.

Lytvinenko: One of our board members loves to say, "Next to food in your belly and a roof over head, if you can't read, you cannot make it." And I believe that. We just take it for granted. Those of us who were fortunate to have a good and sufficient education and to be able to read. I mean, you have notes in front of you, you can read those. Dunkin Donuts cup sitting over there, words on it. From the minute we wake up to the minute we go to bed, we are just slammed with many, many words. For people who can't read, it's an incredible struggle every day. Every day. They tend to be at the lowest ends of economics, because they can't get good jobs.

Jones: I imagine that's probably--yes.

Lytvinenko: I mean, it goes to the whole spectrum. You know, we have some small business owners who come to us. We've had people who are district managers for big corporations.

Jones: Really?

Lytvinenko: We've had people all over the life's spectrum. But you'll find that illiterate people are overrepresented at poverty levels, and of course in low education levels.

Jones: Let me turn this around a second. Do you ever have people who have come to you who are truly dyslexic and ashamed of it? You don't know this until you've worked with them perhaps for a little while. And it's not that they've lacked in education, they've--you talk about hiding things.

Lytvinenko: Well, there's a huge amount of shame or secrecy or embarrassment among people who can't read, because they do assume it's their fault, that there's something wrong with them. And there's not. We are not clinical diagnosticians. So we do not do dyslexic tests. But if the little bit that we do in terms of testing shows that you might be dyslexic, we send you off for the official kinds of tests. But we find all sorts of what we call learning deficiencies along the way. And chances are, if someone has not gotten literacy skills in them by third grade, it's just going to go downhill. And they will begin to think it is their fault. Part of the trust that comes with the one-on-one tutoring is for the tutor to be able to say "You're fine. You're just missing a set of tools from your toolbox, and we're going to help you get those."

Jones: Talk about the 80-year old woman that you mentioned. How did she happen to come to you?

Lytvinenko: She's been there way before I got there.

Jones: Oh, really?

Lytvinenko: She has actually come, and during the time I've been here, she's gotten her GED. And she now keeps coming back because she says she wants to work on her spelling. She needs to improve her spelling. She's actually now also working with one of our tutors who's doing a story project, kind of similar to what you're doing, where she has two students who are talking about their lives, and learning to put some of those things into stories and shape it all. So she comes faithfully. Her granddaughter brings her. She works with her tutor, she works with her own class. We have all kinds of stories. We have Bill, who is our guy on the radio these days. There's one who was a student athlete growing up. And there was always a struggle between the teachers and the coaches "Pass him" "No" "Pass him" "No." Coaches won. He made it through school, but was unable to--was unable to do much of anything. Turned to drugs and alcohol and a bad life in the streets. He will tell you he made very bad decisions. He felt disconnected and not part of the rest of the world. And finally hit rock bottom. Has been coming to us for about a year now. And he has increased his grade level, he's part of a writing class. He's actually--he wants to give back. He's cooking a pig for us to do a fundraiser this Friday.

Jones: Fantastic.

Lytvinenko: He says, I want to give back. And I'll do this pig pick'n for you. And he's been on the radio saying, "I'm Bill and come to my pig pick'n, I'm hosting it for Literacy Council on Friday." He's an amazing person. You know, he's separated himself out from the negative influences in his life. He's trying very hard to stay away from the things that would drag him down. And he gets joy from reading. He does his homework. He works over the weekends. He just is sort of amazed by what education can do for him. We have hundreds of students that are the same way. We have Caroline, who used to ride the bus and watch people reading and wished that she could do that. She lived in terror that she would, when her son got sick, that she would kill him because she couldn't read the medicine bottles, couldn't read the instructions. She got him grown up and educated. She now reads and she says, "I can read on that bus and anywhere that I want to."

Jones: Linda, people like this, how do they come to you? They just make up their mind? Do they know that you exist and where you exist? Or are they recommended, they walk in the door, all kinds of things?

Lytvinenko: I think it's the whole thing. These particular ones, Bill was recommended to come to us. Caroline found her own way. Ms. Gladys, the older student, found her own way. Some people have had employers say, "Go, I'll support you in your efforts." You know, what we do is confidential and it's free. So if you decided to walk in our door, one of the first things we would say is, "Only you know you're here. We don't tell anybody. If you don't want others to know, it's safe. If you decide you want to speak out, we'll support you on that." So I mean, usually, if you think about it, most nonprofits rely on the newspaper and other ways to recruit people and clients to them. We can't do that, because people can't read the newspaper.

Jones: Oh, gosh.

Lytvinenko: So our biggest challenge is one, finding the people who need our help. And then two, helping them see if they have just maybe been struggling along and surviving, that they've been doing this much in life and when they could read, they could do this much, making them realize that it's very much in their favor to do this. That they may think they're okay, but gosh, there's so much they haven't even seen yet by doing this. So it's finding them and then helping them realize that the difference reading can make is huge for them and people around them in their lives.

Jones: You just talked about a few people who have done well. I guess you'd call them a success story. Have you had people who've come to you, learned to read, and now let's say go into libraries or schools, read to children and tell them how important it is?

Lytvinenko: I'm sure they do. Although, you know, because of the nature of what we do, once you leave us, we don't track you. Because it would be breaking confidence for us to send something to your house or to call your phone or whatever.

Jones: But I'm thinking, would they get back to you?

Lytvinenko: Some do. Some do. And we have some students who check in every once in a while, particularly our ESL students.

Jones: I was going to ask you.

Lytvinenko: Those that have learned the language, they are very much letting us know.

Jones: You mentioned the Korean population. I really was unaware that there was a particular Korean population.

Lytvinenko: One of the main--

Jones: Where did this come from?

Lytvinenko: Korea.

Jones: Well, God. (laughs)

Lytvinenko: One of the main misunderstandings, I think, of the immigrant population, of what the immigrant population is, everybody assumes we are strictly Latino and we're strictly Mexican. I think that's what goes on in New Hanover County or North Carolina. True, that's a huge portion. That is the greatest portion of what we do. But we have Ukrainians, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans. You name it, we have 26 countries represented.

Jones: How do you suppose--do you have any idea how they would migrate to this area?

Lytvinenko: Usually job related, or family is already here. I believe there are some new job openings in the area that the Koreans are coming and looking for. I think that's what's brought most of the Latinos here.

Jones: Probably.

Lytvinenko: And I think just something that's better than where they are, no matter where they might be. And I think Asians, jobs and/or, you know, America is always seen as a place of opportunity and a place to go. And Wilmington, all of North Carolina, all of I would guess the East Coast and inland too, is seen as a place where you can come and you can set up and you can become part of this country. Lots of our students are studying for their citizenship. Some already are citizens. It's just kind of the melting pot is happening here again.

Jones: I know that some of the churches now are heavily involved in English as a second language programs. St. Mary Church, for example.

Lytvinenko: Winter Park Baptist.

Jones: Yeah.

Lytvinenko: And we have helped several churches train their tutors for that. And we remain close to a number of those. But you know, there is such a need, we certainly couldn't do it. And the more churches and other organizations that can really have quality might do better. That's again, all across the state in other places as well. We have to all chip in, you know, to see that healthy people who want to be able to give back as much as they take really is a really important to do. I think there's often a very negative image about immigrants who come, as though they are here to just take advantage of what we have to offer in this country.

Jones: Well, I guess at one time, we were all immigrants.

Lytvinenko: We were. And there's going to be a segment of any population that wants to take more than they give back. But in general, that's not the case.

Jones: How are you funded?

Lytvinenko: We're funded--

Jones: Aside from begging. (laughs)

Lytvinenko: Well, begging's a big part of it. You know, we don't have any--as most nonprofits, we don't have any definite funding from year to year. We are fortunate in that for the last--

Jones: And you're not subsidized in any way by the county, for example?

Lytvinenko: The county has--we're part of their general community stuff and I think it's $4,000 this year. A little more from the city. United Way's up and down. Some years they like our proposals and some years they don't. We get a portion of federal money that comes through the community college system in this state. And that is about a quarter to a third of our funding. That's very important to us. So we're hoping that as the new administration looks at what's going on that the role we can play in adult education will remain something that's a funded program. We rely on the community. We have fundraisers throughout the year. We do what we call our begging letter three times a year.

Jones: I know.

Lytvinenko: We have individuals who give to us. And then we go in search of grant funding. There are certain--

Jones: I would imagine that you would be very good at writing grants.

Lytvinenko: I think I'm pretty good, but it's very competitive out there.

Jones: Oh yeah.

Lytvinenko: You can't count on anything these days. You know, even funders that have consistently given money are now seeing 250 percent increase in the people after them. We can do the tradeoff of they like us and they've given to us for years, so maybe they'll give again. But maybe they'll say, "Oh, it's somebody else's turn," and they bow out. It's a crap shoot every single year. And that is probably the biggest stressor in my job, is knowing that I'm trying to come up with enough funding to support seven employees, not all full-time. Buy the materials, keep the lights on.

Jones: Do you own that building?

Lytvinenko: We do own our building. We've outgrown it. We need a new building badly. And that will be something that we'll be looming on our future. My dream, which will happen, is that within the next few years, we will have a building that is adequate for the work that we're doing. We're borrowing space from Star News, we have people in offices. People are having to sit outside. We just have no space.

Jones: There's a bus line that runs not too far from there.

Lytvinenko: We're convenient to a bus line. We need to be not too far from downtown. We need enough space for tutor space and classrooms and a place for tutors and students to informally exchange with each other. We need a training room, we need some classrooms. We need a place for our Family Literacy Program.

Jones: What is your Family Literacy Program?

Lytvinenko: That's pretty neat. That's an evolving program. We've done three modules of six to eight weeks each where we have adults come in, and children from age zero to eight. And there's a time where they're together, just getting acquainted with the books. Then there's sort of a modeling part where somebody shows the parents how you can read with children, doing more than just getting through the words. Then the children work on some crafts or literacy-related things, depending on their age, while the adults are working on some literacy things. And then they come back together and have some parent and child together time.

Jones: That's a fantastic concept, because you really have a family that's growing together.

Lytvinenko: That's a national model. Those components, so the adult alone, the parent, the kids alone, and the groups together, and the parents learning some stuff, that's the traditional components of that. And we started out doing it at the First Baptist Church downtown. They graciously lent us space to do that. Then we were fortunate to partner with Rachel Freeman School. And we've been doing that, and we will continue that next year.

Jones: Elizabeth Meyers?

Lytvinenko: Yes.

Jones: She's something else.

Lytvinenko: She's an amazing person. And so we're going to have a little bit of it this summer. Summer's toned down a little bit. But we're able to benefit from the school's connection with the parents. They're helping us reach a population that would have been hard for us to reach. But because notes can go home with the kids, there are ways that the school can communicate. We're now finding a whole new group that we would have missed out on. And we're kind of doing a similar thing on the ESL side at Forest Hills Elementary, where we're working with kids and parents to help those parents learn English. So we're finding a new thing for us, just in the last six to eight months is working with schools, particularly elementary schools, to get to the adults and the kids who might need it.

Jones: I think that's the way to go. That's a wonderful concept.

Lytvinenko: It is, yeah. I think it's going to be very good for us.

Jones: And I think it would instill a lot of pride in the kids as well, that they are in this position to help and to learn.

Lytvinenko: And it helps too, one, we're short on space, can't do it in our own place. The schools are available. Plus, it's a safe place for the parents, they know where that is. It's familiar.

Jones: You do this during daytime?

Lytvinenko: So far, in the evenings. Summer one, the Family Literacy will be in the daytime. But during the regular school year, school's busy in the daytime, it's tough, kids are too. So we do it in the evenings, sort of over dinner hour. But we're really excited about that because we've been reaching kids indirectly. And when you learn to read, you will have an impact on kids your household. It's an indirect impact. But when we have you both in the room together, we can make a real impression directly on kids.

Jones: That's wonderful. That is wonderful.

Lytvinenko: It's pretty night, we're excited about that. And UNCW is actually working now on that, focused on that. We have volunteer faculty members and students who are focused on helping us particularly with the kid part of that. Because children are not our forte, the adults are our forte. So we're partnering together to make that work. And Smart Start, through the Growing Readers program in the downtown library has been helping with that as well.

Jones: I was going to ask you about Smart Start. And also, that's interesting because of the Isaac Bear Early College School. I should think they'd have programs there for kids who were earning merit or whatever.

Lytvinenko: Well, we have not yet connected with them.

Jones: Is that right?

Lytvinenko: I'll tell you, one of our big challenges is, we are this big a staff, and there are this many things in connections we're trying to make. So for every one we make, we know there's five or ten out there we also want to make. And it's just of happening. I have the most dedicated, wonderful staff in the world. They're expert, they're compassionate, they're smart, they're rational.

Jones: That's wonderful.

Lytvinenko: They're a wonderful team.

Jones: Do you hand select them? Are they sent to you? How do you hire them?

Lytvinenko: Let's see, two, three were here when I got here. We have Shirley, who has been with the Council from the day it started.

Jones: Oh my.

Lytvinenko: She works one day a week as clerical. And so we've kept Shirley. And then Jasmine, who oversees adult basic literacy, was actually a part-time volunteer coordinator when I got here. She's now a full-time manager of the adult literacy side. And Barbara Beba [ph?], who was part time ESOL instructor is now full time managing that whole program. And we have Pat, who does our intakes in our Family Literacy. And Janice--

Jones: Yeah, I think I've talked to her.

Lytvinenko: Janice helps with the computer lab at the ESOL, just 17 hours a week. She's incredible. Then we have Terry, who is the accounting, the financial, helps me with fundraising, managing.

Jones: Everybody's busy.

Lytvinenko: Whatever. Of those, only three of us are full time. Everybody else is part time.

Jones: So when you take time off to go get married, what happens?

Lytvinenko: They run the show. I mean, that is the wonderful thing about this organization. Every piece is important, but no piece will cause a breakdown unless it's for a long time. Program staff manages that and does it. If I'm gone, I can check in, and whatever needs to happen, if I can't do it by phone from afar, somebody can pick it up for me. It's a real team, family approach. There's none of "That's not my job." I mean, if somebody's out, people adjust hours. We're open from eight-thirty in the morning until eight at night. Well with a small staff--

Jones: That's a long time.

Lytvinenko: That's tough to do. So we have to juggle a lot of the time.

Jones: And in the winter, when it gets dark, I guess for the older people--

Lytvinenko: Still do it.

Jones: And you drive to Holden Beach.

Lytvinenko: And back.

Jones: And back.

Lytvinenko: When the bridges are working.

Jones: Well, yea for the new one possibly, if it ever gets built.

Lytvinenko: That will be a wait. I know that all of us who live in Brunswick County and work up here wonder if the bridge went down, or both bridges, if a hurricane blew through here and took those out, what would happen? How in the heck would Wilmington survive if the 8,000 of us that come over?

Jones: You know, this has been an ongoing thing. But I've been told, it's going to happen, it's going to happen, it's going to happen.

Lytvinenko: Yeah, many monies and many years, it's happening.

Jones: And they keep building and building. Get your own boat.

Lytvinenko: Well, I was just thinking, they'd probably have to run that ferry a whole lot.

Jones: They're going to do that too, but that's down the road as well. Is there anything else--I know there are some things we have not covered. I mean, I'm just sitting here, not even taking notes, listening. My old brain will probably be dysfunctional when I get through. Can you think of anything we can talk about or ask about?

Edwards: No, we touched on the grants. I was interested in that and you already covered that.

Lytvinenko:. Grants. Dollar General has a foundation, the founder of Dollar General was illiterate. So he set up a foundation, and we actually have been fortunate. You can only have a couple years in a row before they cut it off. So we go a couple years, go away. And that's been helpful.

Jones: Do you still keep in touch with Doris Buffett?

Lytvinenko: Yes. She was at my wedding, in fact.

Jones: Was she? Good for her. Did she help at all? She probably doesn't want--

Lytvinenko: She helped us my first year. I asked her. But she tends not to--I'm still actually a sunbeam with Doris, which means I have access to a little bit of money that I can throw into the community along the way. And she prefers that her sunbeams not fund their own organization.

Jones: I can understand that in a way. I can understand that.

Lytvinenko: But she still has a presence here. I mean, she's running WISP out of here, and that's now up to I think 2 million or more a year.

Jones: That's pretty good. That's pretty good. Well I'm sure that all the major give-away programs in the country are inundated with hundreds of thousands of requests.

Lytvinenko: She's always kept a humanitarian side. In fact, Warren, when he gets those letters, sends them over to Doris and asks her to take care of those. He doesn't like to do that kind of work himself. But he certainly will fund it if she'll make the decisions. She's a sharp person. Her mantra to us was "Ask the next question," which was don't stop when you think somebody's giving you the answer. Figure out what else might be going on, and ask that next question. I try to remember that along the way.

Jones: Are you going to Rotary today?

Lytvinenko: Yes I am. I will see your husband there. I hope.

Jones: Oh, I'm sure he will be there. Does Rotary ever tap into things like this? Or are they looking for something where they can see quick results? I've never asked.

Lytvinenko: Well, actually, literacy is one of the national, international literacy, the Rotary foci. It's an area that Rotaries are supposed to focus on.

Jones: I should know. I did that entire collection. It took me forever and ever and ever.

Lytvinenko: But I think that it's a tricky thing to be nonprofit in Rotary, because I want to, and we all need to ask for Rotary support, but it can be seen as taking advantage of or browbeating people too much. I would like to see our Rotary Club, and all the Rotary Clubs in town, really take on literacy the way many other Rotary Clubs have.

Jones: I don't know why they can't, because they have given grants to medical research and to one of the first and largest that they funded of course was for the handicapped people, the leg braces and things like that.

Lytvinenko: Well I think that for me, I've not been in the club that long. I'm just not wanting to push or offend or whatever. But I think it's really important. And the challenge is the Rotary members are no different than the rest of the world. They don't quite see it as a crisis the way you see a person with a physical disability or a grave illness or a violent situation. And part of the challenge is for me to try to get creative on how to get the message across without sort of getting really like, again and again, "Let me tell you, let me tell you, let me tell you."

Jones: Well, I know that having done a run on some members of nonprofits in this area where there are over 400 of them.

Lytvinenko: That may be going down I think over the next couple of years.

Jones: I think it should. I think some of them need to--she's heard me say this, and I've been very vocal about it-should coordinate. They'd do better. They'd have the money, they'd have the experience.

Lytvinenko: It's hard. From a business model, that's easy to see. It's hard, I've out working nonprofits for 20 years, it's hard for people who have built something from nothing and are passionate about it--

Jones: To let go.

Lytvinenko: To see how someone else with not exactly the same but similar kind of focus could--

Jones: Yeah, I understand.

Lytvinenko: It's kind of like blending families, or something. You have to just kind of help them feel safe and secure if do that, and see that if they want it to continue, they kind of need to do that. But it's a hard thing.

Jones: Well I think reading is--several years ago, there were some documentaries, I saw about two of them I think, on literacy. And they highlighted -- well, there were two men that I saw--that grew up not knowing how to read at all. Who, with help, and one with the help of a woman who ran a country school, whom he later married, taught him how to read. He had a mind that was wonderful, and became head of a large corporation, and this sort of thing. And I'm sure that there are people like this out there. They're not stupid.

Lytvinenko: No. I would say there is not a one that's stupid. People who have had blocks along the way, something got in the way. You may run into learning disabilities, but the intelligence factor is huge on most of our students. I mean, they are smart, smart people.

Jones: They can memorize entire manuals, yes, there's something there.

Lytvinenko: They're capable. And if you can get to age 50 and you can't read, I'll tell you that you have something going for you that you are able to persevere, get through, get a job, whatever it is that you're doing. You are not a stupid person. That's again one of the messages we need to get out to people. These are people, you may think they're lazy, you're wrong. You may think they're stupid, you're wrong. You may think it's their own fault, you're wrong. The idea is that a piece of their education got left out, and they've struggled along without it, and now by gosh, by golly, they want to fix that and they just need some help in doing it. You know, you figure it's even worse than-- if you're teaching a child to read, they're a blank slate.

Jones: Right.

Lytvinenko: You just have to teach them. Well, with adults, you have to unteach all the ways they've found to compensate for that.

Jones: Right, right.

Lytvinenko: So it's an extra step.

Jones: That's something I never thought of, right.

Lytvinenko: It's beyond just learning to say unlearn this so you can learn this.

Jones: Well Linda, I'm impressed. I'm impressed because you are invigorating to listen to.

Lytvinenko: Thank you.

Jones: I mean, really and truly, you're doing a job, I'm sure that that's one of the reasons you're in the job that you are. But I've learned a lot.

Lytvinenko: What I would like to ask is share out what I have told you.

Jones: Oh, I will, when I can.

Lytvinenko: Whisper it in another's ear. Whisper in any ear you can.

Jones: Yeah.

Lytvinenko: We love people to come to stuff just to learn about us. Because once they realize the magnitude of the problem and the dent we're making and the bigger dent we need to make, they can help. Everybody in this town should be involved as a tutor, a donor, or a learner. There's not one adult that shouldn't have something to do with literacy in one way or another. It's just too big of a problem that were it alleviated and corrected, many of the other things that are wrong would be fixed.

Jones: Could just take place. They would be fixed, exactly. Thank you, Linda.

Lytvinenko: Thank you. Appreciate it. Thank you.

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