The Literacy Initiative is a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to creating and fostering after-school programs focused on youth development, reading, and STEM for low-income students across the world.Updates from Literacy Initiative
Making Virtual Connections with Literacy Initiative
By Haley Zimmerman, Literacy Initiative
How do you build community and get kids excited about learning when you can’t even be in the same room? Human connection has always been a big part of what Literacy Initiative does. Since 2018, we’ve been hosting Books and Cookies, an after-school enrichment program for low-income kids in schools. Kids do best when they’re in a friendly atmosphere and are interacting face-to-face with volunteers. When Covid-19 shut down all in-person programs, we had to figure out how to bring that same environment to virtual activities.
This summer, we launched eCamp, a free summer camp hosted entirely on Zoom. The idea is deceptively simple: each weekday was divided into hour-long slots, with separate classes for elementary and middle school kids, and volunteers work 1-2 hours a week teaching anything they want. Kids learned TikTok dances, ciphers and codebreaking, American Sign Language, how to program basic video games (taught by me!) and so much more. Every week in my coding class, I met new kids, but there was also a group of regulars that I got to know better and better as the summer stretched on. We built our own little community, across states and time zones.
The volunteers bonded too, mostly through social media. It’s pretty cool that we all met some people across the country. My favorite memory with the volunteers was a big Zoom call of everyone the last week of June, as we planned our updated schedule for July. We shouted out ideas--“We should teach martial arts! What about a French class?”--and there was always someone who said “I know how to do that.” Being virtual certainly has its difficulties, but it allowed us to bring a big and diverse group of volunteers together who otherwise never would’ve met.
This fall, instead of group activities, we’re doing a program pairing volunteers and students one-on-one for homework help and tutoring. Instead of building large communities, we’re trying to foster relationships between elementary and middle schoolers and teenagers. The pandemic is such an isolating time, and we want to give students not just someone to help with their homework but also someone to talk to. They’re missing chances to be with their friends and peers, and missing important learning in the classrooms, but we hope Literacy Initiative and our amazing volunteers can help close the gaps.