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News & Updates for December 2018

newsThis month:


Special message for Literacy Advance volunteers

from MAM President & CEO Martha Macris

Martha MacrisDear Literacy Advance Volunteers,

What a joy to spend time with Literacy Advance volunteers at the Meet and Greet sessions over the past two weeks. Frankly, I was a little nervous but when I heard people begin to tell me why they came to Literacy Advance to volunteer and heard their stories, I began to relax and feel that I was indeed in familiar and good company.

Some of you have lived in other countries and know personally what it is like to feel isolated by a language barrier, others of you have had students in traditional US education settings and seen firsthand when immigrants struggle to learn because of limited English, some were looking for a way to give back and make their community a better place and all of you love your students.

I want to thank you all for sharing your personal stories, for your questions about MAM, what will change, why this transition has happened and what to expect. In short, we do not expect the Literacy Advance program to change any more than it ever has changed. One of your hallmarks of excellence has been your ability to review, assess and make appropriate changes (like changing from level numbers to descriptions, just this year). We have a Program Transition Team that will begin in January to look at both the MAM ESL program and Literacy Advance’s program to learn from each other. We also want to be sure that Literacy Advance clients can make use of our other programs like Immigration Legal Services, Employment, Financial Education, etc.

Some administrative details have already changed – things like bill paying and supply ordering, etc have been absorbed by MAM. We are committed to good stewardship of the programming to keep the mission alive and thriving so that more Houstonians will be fluent users of our language. We have a great opportunity and I am excited about all that we can do together.

Stay in touch!


Literacy Advance closed Tuesday, December 18

Tuesday tutors - please tell your students!

Literacy Advance is CLOSED all day on Tuesday, December 18 for a staff training day. If your class would normally meet on Tuesday, December 18, staff will coordinate additional options with you.

Please make sure your students know - they will probably need multiple reminders. Please read your Student Announcements aloud and ask students to write this down!


Matching gifts

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make us a match!

There (can be) something so great about matching.

And did you know? Literacy Advance received almost $6,000 so far this year because of matching gifts. Some companies will match your volunteer time, some will match your own giving, and some will match both. Some extend this to their retirees, and some to spouses!

So if you've arranged a matching gift for us recently - THANK YOU! If not - what are you waiting for?!

Remember that you can continue to make your gifts to Literacy Advance, using the donation page here. If you have any questions, you can talk to Sandy Staffeld, Vice President of Fund Development at MAM: 713.574.7535  or


Special Announcement:

A new chapter

We hope you've already heard our great news! But just in case not:

Literacy Advance has joined forces with Memorial Assistance Ministries (MAM) and the two agencies are now operating as one entity. Our work together will be known as "Literacy Advance, a MAM program".

Both Literacy Advance and MAM are excited by the possibilities of this partnership and we hope you are too! Please find more details here.


Wrapping up fall classes

We're very close to the end of the year!

Many classes wrapped up in November. THANK YOU, wonderful volunteers, for all of the instruction, support, and guidance you’ve given to students this semester!

We navigated the fall semester with a nearly-full class schedule and would not have been able to see as many students in classes without YOU. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

As your fall class winds down, please remember that a few upcoming activities must be integrated into your remaining instruction time. Your students will need to complete:

  • CASAS post-test
  • goals check-in, and
  • end-of-class survey.

See your tutor journal for the specific dates of when these events will happen for your class, and ask us if you need any clarification. We need all students to complete these activities before beginning their next class, so please save enough time during your final class sessions to work on them.

And it's certainly not too soon to begin thinking about YOUR next class! Read on for more information about what we’ll be up to in the spring.


Planning for spring semester

The fun never stops!

The spring semester will kick off on Monday, January 14, 2019 – and we’re already looking forward to it! We’ve started slotting tutors into the schedule of spring classes and we’d love to have more options confirmed before the fall semester ends on December 22.

The more classes we can confirm, the more we’re able to schedule students’ next class before they leave for the holidays. This means fewer calls, texts, and voicemails, and more students in your classes, faster!

You can take a look at our ESL tutor needs for Wilcrest here.

If any fit your schedule, drop Courtney a line to start confirming your next class.


Holiday Closings

Mark your calendars, and tell your students


The last day of classes for 2018 is Saturday, December 22.

After that date, classes are closed. Some staff will be working for much of the holiday break, but please make an appointment before coming by the office - the person you want to see may be out, or we may be offsite at training, and we wouldn't want you to have a wasted journey. Please also be patient if it takes us a little longer than usual to return emails and phone calls.

Thank you, and happy holidays to all our friends and supporters!

The Literacy Advance office will open again on Monday, January 14, 2019.


Top Tutor Tips

Helping students relax and settle in

When adults arrive at Literacy Advance for the first time, they’re often timid, shy, and nervous. These barriers make learning much more difficult, so it’s critical that we focus on creating a community environment for all learners to thrive.

This is one reason we hold New Student Registrations in group session and keep classes small! And of course, tutors set the tone for community building in classrooms.

To keep your classroom focused on togetherness, keep these tips in mind:

  • Be on time
  • Welcome students as they arrive.
  • Look them in the eye, and SMILE as you greet them by name!
  • Games are great! Laughter can build strong bonds and help people relax. Check out some of the silly games in the Resource Rooms.
  • Don’t rush through the first few lessons. Getting-to-know-you activities are not only for the first day of class! Reinforce class cohesion to solidify friendships before the semester ends. Time spent on community-building at the beginning of a class session is never wasted and can help more, and better, learning happen throughout the semester.

Meanwhile, learn more about how a Sense of Belonging and Community helps drive student persistence, and if you have any questions or comments about the strategies suggested here, contact Courtney at, or join our powerful online community Literacy Advance Tutor Support Group!

If you have any questions or comments about the materials or strategies suggested here, contact us at


Theme of the Month

On hiatus until February

Our Theme of the Month calendar takes a break over the new year, so what better time time to revisit why we do this in the first place?

We first started a monthly focus on a specific topic in 2017. That was as a direct result of conversations with students.  Students said that they loved that their tutors prepared practical lessons for them, and wondered how they could learn about even more topics throughout the year.

We worked with those students, and looked at the information in student journals, and ran our data on student goals, to find the themes with the most interest - and the Theme of the Month calendar was born!

Theme of the Month Calendar in Full:

Month Theme Possible lesson content
Theme of the Month on hiatus for January
February Taxes Tax deadlines; free services at Neighborhood Tax Centers 
March Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo; Houston roads; special events in the Houston calendar 
April Money & Banking Houston Money Week; banking options; Promise Credit Union; dangers of Payday Lending 
May Housing Paperwork needed to sign a lease; rights and responsibilities of tenants and homeowners
June  Jobs How to apply for jobs; interview skills; what's typical in a US-style resume 
July  Getting Ready for School  Getting kids ready to go back to school; options at school including after-school care and clubs
August Shopping & Restaurants  Houston Restaurant Weeks; loyalty clubs and benefits; online shopping risks and benefits 
September  Immigration & Citizenship  Requirements for US citizenship including eligibility, paperwork, and fees
October Health    Health Literacy Month; questions to ask the doctor; advocating for your own health; open enrollment in the ACA
November Libraries   What's available at your local library? What does the library provide online? 
Theme of the Month on hiatus for December

Every month, we will feature resources and ideas that match the theme. Discovered something excellent? Let us in on your secrets! Talk to Colleen with ideas and new resources that match the theme.


Looking ahead to February

Taxes, taxes, taxes...

When our Theme of the Month returns, we'll focus on Taxes.

The conversation couldn’t be more timely, because our friends at BakerRipley are recruiting volunteers for the 2019 tax season! BakerRipley provides FREE tax services to low- and middle- income families in the Houston area, and you don’t need to be an accountant or tax expert to help out.

In addition to tax preparers, there are volunteer roles as intake specialists and translators at several BakerRipley campuses. You can view more information and sign up to volunteer at – remember to choose “Tax Centers” as the type of volunteer opportunity on the sign-up form.


Bad weather? Not sure if class is on?

Step One: Check Facebook

We know that weather in Houston can be unpredictable. Sometimes we don't have a lot of notice that we'll need to close the office and cancel classes, and we don't always have time to call everyone. 

Facebook is a quick and easy way to update lots of people at once, so the Literacy Advance Facebook page always has the most up-to-date information about closings in cases of bad weather.

If you think there's a chance we might be closed, please check the page rather than calling the office. Look for this image, and click on it for the latest update:

weather information

You can check the Facebook page even if you don't have a Facebook account, so please bookmark the link above. And remind your students to do the same!

Of course, if the bad weather is local to your neighborhood, and you're the one who needs to cancel class because you're concerned about driving, please do call us and let us know.


Student Success Spotlights

Don't miss our Student Success Spotlights!

You helped make them possible.


Calendar Highlights

What's ahead? Mark your calendar!

calendarWe always want you to be up to date! So highlights of the Literacy Advance calendar are summarized below.

A more complete calendar can always be found online here, or you can check our Facebook Events page.

Literacy Advance CLOSED all day on Tuesday, December 18,
when staff will be offsite for training

Literacy Advance fall semester ends December 22

LAST DAY of classes in 2018
Saturday, December 22

FIRST DAY of classes in 2019
Monday, January 14


Find more information just for volunteers:

And finally - don't miss the Volunteer Spotlight!

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