Success Stories

Literacy NJ

Edison, New Jersey

New Jersey Community Capital sat down with Elizabeth Gloeggler, CEO of Literacy New Jersey (Literacy NJ), a statewide educational organization that equips adult learners with English skills to improve their language and literacy skills. Through the recruitment and training of a robust network of volunteer tutors, Literacy NJ provides native and nonnative speakers with free instruction in the subjects of reading, writing, math and literacy. Like many small businesses and nonprofits in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Elizabeth and her team have had to learn how to pivot to continue serving the needs of their students, many who are living in underserved communities.

Thanks to a $50,000 working capital loan provided through NJCC’s Garden State Relief Fund, Literacy NJ can continue to connect its students with vital learning resources and technology to help them successfully reach their goals.

Tell us about Literacy New Jersey. Can you describe how the pandemic has affected the community you serve?

Elizabeth: Literacy New Jersey just celebrated their 40th Anniversary in 2019. In 2014 they grew by the merger of nine, smaller literacy organizations across the state. We went from several tiny boats here in New Jersey to a much larger ship. We’ve recently learned how to pivot from three or four staff members to now, a larger staff organization of over twenty members. The individuals we help and serve are usually the most vulnerable in the state. Literacy skills are tied to so many aspects of life. Some of our students are learning to read their very first works or their very first words in English. Others are working to get a High School Diploma or their citizenship. 

All of those are huge factors that hinder what our students hope to accomplish. This includes getting a job that will help them support their families, being able to help their kids with school work or filling out forms to simply apply for a job. Our students were struggling before this and now that you add on a pandemic, students are sharing the same struggle as everyone else but with the added hindrance of not being able to synthesize the information and do something with it. 

We’re also finding that that students who are parents are having a harder time helping their children because of language and literacy barriers. They’re now being asked to be full-time educators for their children. Because we’ve found that parents are truly struggling, we’ve started homework help sessions across some of our counties where we’ve discovered a huge need. These sessions help the parent and the child with school work. Though we’ve always been helping parents help their children with homework, now it’s even more critical. 

One of the unique ways that we serve all of our students is that we recruit volunteers from the community and we train them and match them with our students. What we’ve had to do during this crisis was pivot instantly to working remotely and online. We’re teaching classes via Zoom but our students have encountered challenges around connectivity. Some do not have equipment while others do not have access to the internet. If we could take a step back, we would’ve tried to figure out how to get more students connected. Thankfully, we have a little over 50% of our students connected remotely and we’re not giving up. 

 

When New Jersey began sheltering in place, what were your first thoughts? What were your initial concerns about keeping Literacy NJ up and running during this time?

Elizabeth: It all went so fast. We began to immediately think about how to keep our staff safe. A lot of our staff meet at a library because of its location in the community. When libraries started closing, we knew we had to adjust immediately and think about how to get students and volunteers connected fast as well as how to get our staff working safely from home. We all worked twice as fast during those first few weeks to keep our students connected. Our students are currently experiencing a variety of challenges ranging from inability to pay rent, losing their jobs to getting sick. It became very important to connect our students to resources and each other. 

The digital divide is huge, and we’ve always known this. It’s now very clear that many people do not have access to devices and when they do not have access, they do not have resources.

 

How has this funding helped you to maintain business operations during this crisis? Can you provide any specific examples?

Elizabeth: Garden State Relief funding allows us to keep our operations and staff intact while providing services for our students throughout the state. Without this help, running our day-to-day operations would’ve been extremely challenging during these times. 

Everybody I dealt with at New Jersey Community Capital was fantastic and delightful. The process went quickly and everybody pivoted to figure out how to get us what we needed.

 

What does life look like beyond COVID-19? Do you have any future goals or ideas you are considering as a result of this experience?

When we look at our vision, what we’ve learned is, ‘How do we address this digital divide that exists?’ We may have to think differently about how we get parents of children connected. Whether that’s partnering with schools to help these parents access computers and improve on their literacy issues, we cannot have people in their homes without information. 

We’re also learning that we have to grow, remotely. While we’ll one day meet with students in person again, we have to learn how to provide them with more digital /resources. Since adapting remotely, we’ve been able to identify the barriers to learning and what works versus what does not. We’ve learned that we can use this as an opportunity to better serve our students as we move forward.
 

"Garden State Relief funding allows us to keep our operations and staff intact while providing services for our students throughout the state. Without this help, running our day-to-day operations would’ve been extremely challenging during these times."