Story by Connie McDougall
Photos by Jimi Lott and James Prichard

Top: SPU juniors Carla Hildebrand (left) and Alissa Newton answer the Washington Literacy Hotline, taking calls from across the state. Callers include people who want to volunteer, and those needing instruction. "I think it's hard to call for help," says Newton. "I remember traveling in Russia and I couldn't read the signs. I felt scared and helpless. I think that's how people feel."

Middle: Known as the "computer guru" around Washington Literacy, SPU junior Tim Williams' expertise keeps the machines running and up-to-date. "I've learned a lot on the job," he says, "but the best part of working here is the people."

Bottom: Sherry Tuinstra '96 has worked and volunteered at Washington Literacy since 1992. Her current project assists immigrants and refugees with citizenship classes, a challenging task at times. "Some of the people aren't literate in their own languages," she notes.

A mother calls in. She says she can barely read and now her child is struggling in school.

An 80-year-old woman phones. She wants to learn to read so she can study her Bible.

One day a man calls to say he's lost and can't read the signs to get home.

All of these people and thousands more have dialed the Washington Literacy Hotline for information and referrals. The person on the other end of the line is usually a Seattle Pacific University student -- like Carla Hildebrand or Alissa Newton. This year, the two SPU juniors work at various office jobs for the nonprofit organization, but nothing is more important than answering the Hotline.

"People call in from all over the state. It's a huge step for them, and we can't lose them because of bad referrals," says Mika Galilee-Belfer, a Washington Literacy staff member who supervises Hildebrand and Newton. "I have total confidence in Carla and Alissa. They know their stuff and they're very compassionate."

For their part, Seattle Pacific students like working at Washington Literacy because of the congenial staff and proximity to campus. The real value, though, is learning firsthand about the human cost of illiteracy. Lori Vos, a junior, answered Hotline calls for a year and a half: "You know the statistics, but it isn't real until you hear someone on the Hotline. Their stories make it real."

Washington Literacy offers a variety of services statewide, including volunteer training, referrals, outreach and tutoring. With so much to do on a shoestring budget, SPU work-study students -- whose wages are partially paid by the federal government -- fill a real need.

"As a small nonprofit, we simply could not do our mission without them," says Executive Director Liz Stroup. "They're an incredible resource." She credits students like junior Robin Rust, an office assistant, for doing "the work of three people. All of the students are really extraordinary people and they're making a difference."

Last year, Seattle Pacific senior Candice Wickson sought corporate sponsorship to produce a Washington Literacy public service announcement. A local TV station declined, saying they were already involved in an education project with the governor. Not to be deterred, Wickson convinced them that using Governor Gary Locke and his wife, Mona, to promote Washington Literacy's Hotline was educational. The PSA now airs statewide.

SPU junior Tim Williams is referred to as the "computer guru" at work. Most of his time is spent at the Literacy Action Center (LAC), an outreach arm of Washington Literacy located in Seattle's Greenwood district. He is putting together a computer network, and plans Internet hookups and e-mail. Thanks in large part to his efforts, LAC clients can master computer skills for better jobs.

"This is very fulfilling," says Williams. "Although I'm not tutoring, I feel needed here and that I'm doing something worthwhile."

Other Seattle Pacific students do serve as tutors. Alice Ellis, enrolled in SPU's TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) master's degree program, teaches English to people from all over the globe. "Often it's the small talk that's hard for them," says Ellis. "Here they can learn the rhythm of English in a safe place."

Anne Helmholz, director of the LAC, notes that she's hired students on as permanent staff after graduation. "They're really dedicated and talented at what they do," she says, pointing to Sherry Tuinstra '96, who wrote a grant that pays for free citizenship classes at the LAC. Carrie Misener '91 also continues as a part-time member of the administrative staff, in addition to her full-time teaching job.

Without question, the relationship benefits both the organization and the students. Hildebrand changed her career plans because of her work-study job with Washington Literacy. "I wanted to work for a corporation or the government," she says. "But now I know I want to work for a nonprofit."

And Newton, a veteran of Seattle Pacific overseas mission trips, had an epiphany of her own. "Working at Washington Literacy gave me a new perspective," she says. "I see that you don't have to go away to serve. There's plenty to do right here and right now." The Washington Literacy Hotline number is 1-800-323-2550.

Please read our disclaimer. Send any questions, comments or correspondence about Response to
or call 206-281-2051.
Copyright © 1999 University Communications, Seattle Pacific University.

Seattle Pacific University
Office of University Communications
3307 Third Avenue West
Seattle, Washington 98119-1997
United States of America