Since 1968, Literacy Volunteers of Rensselaer County has helped to build a more literate society by providing free, confidential tutoring to adults and out-of-school teens in reading, writing, and English.
Ruth Colvin founded the first Literacy Volunteers of America organization in Syracuse in 1962. In 1968, Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA)-Troy area was founded under the sponsorship of Church Women United by four women, Leslie Dickin Burr, Marian Baker, Lona Moore and Bea Peterson. Leslie Dickin Burr, President of Church Women United was the Chairperson and a workshop leader of Literacy Volunteers for many years. At this time, the organization existed solely of volunteers.
In 1977, LVA-Troy was granted a Vista Volunteer through the Literacy Volunteers State Office to administer the program. Joan Rumball Winhold took on the position and grew the program to 46 tutors and 68 students, working from the office at the First United Presbyterian Church in Troy. When the grant ran out in 1980, LVA-Troy took on the responsibility for Joan’s salary.
In the early 80’s, LVA-Troy set up a satellite in Berlin, N.Y. and received the first New York State Annual Founders award in 1983. Barbara Bush was the speaker at the conference and several of our members had the honor of being photographed with her. In June of 1986, LVORC hosted the first NYS conference of Literacy Volunteers at Russell Sage College. LVA-Troy had grown to 109 tutors and 160 students; 2 paid employees, a full-time coordinator/director and a part-time office manager/assistant director. That year, Executive Director Joan Winhold was awarded the “Unsung Hero” award by the Troy Rotary Club and LVA-Troy was nominated for the NYS Eleanor Roosevelt Community Service award. In 1988, we celebrated our 20th Anniversary in which Ruth Colvin, the founder of Literacy Volunteers of America was the keynote speaker.
In 1990, the first Family Reading Circle program was conducted in conjunction with Head Start. Elsie Clickner, an LVA tutor, was recognized as educational volunteer by the Rensselaer Volunteer Center. In 1991, Marian Potter, LVA Troy board member, received the Ruth Colvin Award for Administrative Volunteers at the National Conference; Mary Misel, LVA-Troy tutor, received a Rensselaer County Education Volunteer Award; and Joan Winhold retired after 14 years of service at the age of 73. In 1992, a former LVA-Troy student was Keynote speaker at the Annual PLUS Celebration of Literacy. Nancy Gardner, an LVA tutor, workshop leader, and Board Secretary, received the Rensselaer County Education Volunteer Award. In 1993, LVA-Troy presented the Partners in Literacy Award to the First United Presbyterian Church and held the First Mad Hatters Birthday Party fund-raiser. In 1993, Marie Heller joined the organization where she remains as a staff member in 2021. In 1994, ESL tutor, Catherine DiBenedetto, received the Ruth J. Colvin Award for ESL Tutors at the National Conference. In 1999, Donna Gibson retired as Executive Director and became an LVA-NYS Master Trainer and Accreditation Surveyor. That same year, a very successful Jazz Brunch was held at Troy Country Club, netting over $5,000.
In the year 2000, Barbara Wyman was hired as Executive Director. In 2003, we celebrated our 35th Anniversary with LVA founder Ruth Colvin as guest speaker. In 2005, LVA-Greater Capital Region officially changed its name to Literacy Volunteers of Rensselaer County (LVORC) and tutor Nancy Purcell received the Ruth J. Colvin and Frank C. Laubach Award for Volunteer Excellence at the ProLiteracy National Conference. Also in 2005, the Read With Me program started at School 12 in Troy.
In 2006, the EL Civics program began in collaboration with Catholic Charities’ Hispanic Outreach Services, and the first Authors’ Night was held at The Arts Center of the Capital Region. The Workplace Literacy Program began in 2007, providing on-site literacy classes specific to an individual’s workplace responsibilities. Comfortex, Blasch Precision Ceramics, Sealy, Madison Handbags and the Hilton Garden Inn have all partnered with LVORC to bring this valuable service to their employees. In 2008, Financial Literacy classes were launched with support from CAP COM Federal Credit Union, using the “Make the Most of Your Money” curriculum. In 2010 the Everybody Wins! Power Lunch program was initiated at the Sacred Heart School with a grant from Pitney Bowes.
In 2011, the Sewing and English Class began in Rensselaer with classroom space provided by the Parish of St. John the Evangelist and St. Joseph. The following year, volunteers from Russell Sage College started a Computer Literacy Class. In 2012, LVORC received the Champions of Character Award from Academy of Character Education at the Sage Colleges. In 2013, then-President of the Board, Susan Perkins initiated the first Famous Ladies’ Tea fundraiser held at Emma Willard School. Also in 2013, LVORC began tutoring at the Rensselaer County Jail in collaboration with Questar III.
At the end of 2013, Barbara Wyman retired as Executive Director after 14 years of service and Judith Smith, a former tutor was appointed Executive Director of LVORC.
Les Lak, Sr. Vice President of Systems and Operations at Blasch Precision Ceramics, was named the 2014 White House Champion of Change Strengthening the Economy through Citizenship for his commitment to providing on-site workplace literacy classes for Blasch employees.
In 2015, a grant from First Niagara enabled the expansion of Everybody WINS! Power Lunch. In 2016, we launched the Literacy Study Circle to serve Basic Literacy learners who are waiting to be matched with an individual tutor.
2017 brought big changes as LVORC moved from the 3rd floor of the First United Presbyterian Church to the 3rd floor of Hart Hall on the Russell Sage College campus, and with the move came an elevator!
In 2018, LVORC celebrated 50 years with the launch of the Fall Festival of Literacy. The celebration brought together more than 100 students, tutors and supporters and raised $22,700. Events throughout the year included a “birthday celebration” at the Troy Farmers Market. The City of Troy recognized LVORC’s 50 years of service with a Certificate of Commendation. In October of the same year, LVORC started the Sewing and English language Workplace Skills (SEWS) program for refugee and immigrant women at the Church of St. Andrew in Albany.
Faced with the loss of significant grants, LVORC was fortunate to receive a substantial gift from the estate of Lois K. Smith Lusty. Lois was a long-time member of the First United Presbyterian Church of Troy and actively involved with the Troy community which included LVORC. She passed away at the age of 101.
2019 saw the introduction of the Irish Night for Literacy, a fundraiser featuring the trio Triskele. Four basic literacy learners and tutor Mary Krenceski volunteered to be the subjects of new training videos produced by Literacy New York.
Everything changed in 2020, but LVORC forged ahead, providing remote instruction and presenting all its fundraising events online. When LNY Greater Capital Region closed permanently in the midst of the pandemic, LVORC took the initiative of expanding its service area to Albany County. Christine Katchmar was hired as Albany Program Coordinator.
In 2021, the Woman’s Club of Albany welcomed the SEWS program to its building on Madison Avenue. A grant from Troy Savings Bank Foundation made it possible to purchase Chromebooks for learners who still needed to be connected to digital learning. Tutors and learners were able to return to in-person instruction following CDC guidelines.
All of our programs are presented to learners free of charge through the generous support of the community and our sponsors.