May 1 was a big day for a local non-profit agency that helps people learn the English language.
Over the years there have been moving stories about immigrants finding their voice with the help of volunteers from the Literacy Volunteers of Southern Connecticut. There was a young mother who came from Syria to find the freedom she had heard about, and an elderly man who grew up an orphan in Jamaica until finally making his way to the United States. Literacy center volunteers helped them and countless others navigate the language and other aspects of living in America.
May 1 was a day for the local non-profit to receive rather than to give, the day of The Great Give, which encourages donations to Greater New Haven non-profit groups.
The Literacy Volunteers of Southern Connecticut was already celebrating a donation of new furniture to its Milford office that day when representatives of the NewAlliance Foundation showed up and surprised the agency’s staff with a check for $20,000, which represents 20 percent of the literacy center’s annual budget.
Tami Jackson, the literacy agency’s executive director, was floored.
“This is a huge deal,” Jackson said.
It’s not easy for a non-profit to generate the dollars it needs these days, and anyone who has seen Jackson at budget meetings or fundraisers knows how hard she works for every dollar.
In 2016, she was low on funds and appealed to the Board of Aldermen to help. Donations were down, funds were being cut. The aldermen voted to add her agency to a list of others the city provides grants to each year, allocating her $5,000. Donations, fundraisers and other grants make up the rest of the annual budget.
Getting a donation amounting to 20 percent of that yearly figure means she can breathe a sigh of relief for the time being.
Half the funds will go into the agency’s reserve account, and half into programming.
The NewAlliance Foundation has been helping groups like the Literacy Volunteers of Southern Connecticut since 2004, when it was established through a contribution of $40 million in stock from NewAlliance Bancshares, Inc., according to the foundation’s website. In 2011, with the merger of NewAlliance Bancshares, Inc. with First Niagara Financial Group, NewAlliance Foundation became a private, independent foundation serving 44 Connecticut communities.
Since its inception, the foundation has approved $18 million in grants to local organizations, supporting the arts, community development, health and human services, and youth and education.
But libraries and literacy programs are the foundation’s favorite groups to fund, said Kim Healey, the foundation’s executive director.
On May 1, the literacy center received the foundation’s Hi-5 High Impact Literacy Award, which is awarded to a not-for-profit organization that has proved it can make a difference.
“We show up like Ed McMahon with our balloons and our oversized check,” Healey said.
“We’ve been impressed with [the literacy center] over the years,” Healey added. “We were very excited to choose them.”
Literacy Volunteers of Southern Connecticut, located in the Fannie Beach Community Center at 16 Dixon Street in Milford with satellite offices at the Milford Library and Stratford Library, has been tutoring adults in and around Milford, including 10 surrounding cities, for 25 years.
Last year, the center, with about 80 volunteers, served 121 students. Its mission is to provide services at no cost to any individual who wishes to learn the English language or enhance their reading, writing, speaking and math skills necessary to lead productive lives in the community.
The center helps people earn high school degrees and attain citizenship, and provides literacy programs for children, from babies and toddlers to middle school age. It holds story hours, book give-a-ways, individual reading sessions, and family-based literacy programs.
The center had been celebrating its office “makeover” May 1. Orchid Orthopedic Solutions had excess furniture — desks, a conference room table, and more — and made a gift of it to the literacy center.
That, too, was a big deal for the Milford-based non-profit because it meant matching furniture and a more polished look.
“Now everything matches,” Jackson said. “It’s a nice, professional office now.”
Carlos Moran, general manager of Orchid Orthopedic Solutions, said the company evaluated the best way to repurpose the items and found a couple of organizations that could benefit from the donation and put the items to good use.
“We are glad to see that the donations are making an impact by providing a better atmosphere for the people that provide such a great service,” Moran said.