Literacy Center Hosts ‘Friend-Raising’ Party to Mark 25 Years
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
October 25, 2018
AURORA—On Oct. 14, the Dominican Literacy Center held what its founder, Dominican Sister Kathleen Ryan, called a “friend-raiser” party in celebration of its 25th anniversary.
 
The event was held on the grounds of St. Therese of Jesus Parish, here, where the center is located. Scheduled highlights included a reunion of graduates and volunteer tutors, refreshments, fun geared to children,  and performances by a local choir and dance groups. 
 
Aurora Alderman Juani  Garza “gave a heartwarming speech in Spanish and English about how important it is to learn to read, write and speak English,” Sister Kathleen said.
 
Congressman William Foster (IL-11th) also attended, bringing a certificate of official recognition for the center that will be entered into the U.S. Congressional record. 
 
“It was thrilling to see so many people of different ethnic backgrounds, financial levels, age, etc., find such joy in just being together,” Sister Kathleen said.
 
The day was just one event this year to raise awareness of the center. Another anniversary event was a recent display in the Aurora Public Library. Traveling displays to other libraries are in the works. 
 
Plans include inviting everyone connected to the Dominican Literacy Center to walk together behind a banner, in the city’s Memorial Day parade next year.  
 
In 1993, Sister Kathleen, a long time education administrator from Chicago, was substitute teaching at St. Peter School in Aurora when she saw a television program segment about two nuns who were helping adults learn to read.
 
Her first thought was to return to Chicago to set up a program, but Aurora-area pastors and social workers pointed to the great need for English as a Second Language classes in Aurora.
 
The first classes were held in the basement of St. Nicholas Church in September 1993. 
 
“That first year we had 18 students and a waiting list,” Sister Kathleen says. 
 
“Even the first year, volunteers came forward,” she adds.  Kathy Snow was the first of what has grown to about 200 volunteers today.
 
In 1994, Sister Kathleen heard that the community of School Sisters of St. Francis at St. Therese of Jesus Parish had decided it was time to retire as a group to their motherhouse. 
 
She inquired at the parish about the newly-empty convent and received a warm welcome. 
 
“We moved in and started changing the building into the literacy center,” she says.
 
The ministry has grown steadily. Sister Kathleen estimates that the center has helped more than 2,000 women to learn English. That, she says, means there are more than 2,000 families who have benefited by having a mother or other female relative who now can speak, read and write English.
 
Students can stay in the program for up to three years. 
 
“Then they have to graduate,” Sister Kathleen says. “I think we’re probably the only place where (many) people don’t want to graduate.”
 
To explain why, she says, “We are a learning community (and) teaching reading, writing and speaking English is the main focus. But tutors and students get to know each other.”
 
The relationships within the 15 groups of students and tutors each year sometimes become friendships. 
 
“Some tutors keep in touch with past students,” Sister Kathleen says. “Many of them keep in good contact.”
 
Additionally, the center’s conversation classes bring students together and serve as a “way for current and past students to get to know each other,” she says. 
 
“We think we’re doing our part to eliminate racism just by having women who otherwise wouldn’t know each other to now see each other (and) share advice,” she adds.
 
The Dominican Literacy Center helps its students to live in their second culture as well as learn their second language. 
 
Sister Kathleen says, giving the example of a student who came in and told her tutor, “I’m going on a field trip with my child’s class. I looked up ‘field’ in the dictionary ... so what am I doing? What should I plan for?” 
 
That kind of misunderstanding of a cultural norm is not unusual, she says, and many of those kinds of situations are such that most people wouldn’t realize the language used could be confusing.
 
It is little wonder that “there has not been a moment without a waiting list” at the DLC, Sister Kathleen says. 
 
She said she hopes the 25th anniversary will be an occasion to recruit more volunteers to help whittle down the around 80-person waiting list. 
 
The women on that list may have to wait up to three years, Sister Kathleen says. “We are the only (area) agency that does individual tutoring. All our tutoring is one-on-one.”
 
The agency website notes that 42 percent of the people of Aurora are immigrants from other countries and speak a non-English language as their first language. Around 20 percent of Illinois residents (2.6 million people) could benefit from English language instruction.
 
To help meet another common need since its beginning, the DLC holds citizenship classes at St. Mary Parish in Aurora. Four classes of men and women — two in the mornings and two in the evenings — meet for large group classes. 
 
Twelve volunteers, men and women, teach and also provide one-on-one practice sessions as each student nears their citizenship appointments.
 
Sister Kathleen estimates that “well over 1,500 people (in these classes) have become new citizens.”
 
The Dominican Literacy Center is a ministry that Sister Kathleen says she “kind of stumbled into.”
 
“It’s really fun,” she says. “We just keep working and paddling along.
 
“It’s the little program that could.”
 
Info: To learn about attending or voluntering at the Domincan Literacy Center, visit https://dominicanliteracycenter.org/