The Literacy Council of Reading-Berks had a humble beginning in 1968, when 13 women, sponsored by several community groups, joined together to address the adult illiteracy crisis. For the first few years, these volunteers worked on their own, searching out and helping adults in need. Tutoring took place at locations across the county and there was no central location for the Council.
The Council moved toward formalizing its nonprofit organization status by creating a board, writing bylaws, starting a tutor-training program, and collecting materials for a lending library. By the late 70s, the Council had become a more professional organization. They had a home at Fifth & Penn Streets in Reading, and by 1980 had incorporated as a 501c3 organization. The Council began to hire staff, and services were able to expand due to the affiliation with the United Way of Berks County.
The Council began meeting the needs of more students by offering classes. After moving to a larger location, citizenship preparation and English-as-a-second-language classes began. In 1987, the first grants were received from the Pennsylvania Department of Education's Bureau of Adult Basic and Literacy Education.
More professional staff was hired to meet the changing requirements of grantors. The ESL curriculum was developed and tutor trainings were changed to meet these changes. Meanwhile, services continued to expand.
In 2000, the Literacy Council moved its headquarters to West Lawn and continued to grow. Collaborations were made with area businesses and organizations to serve more people. The Council opened a computer lab, making it available to the community as a CareerLink Access Point. More help was given to the workforce, including workers and employers, through the affiliation with the Pennsylvania Workforce Improvement Network. In 2004, the Council was awarded the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations Seal of Excellence for successfully completing the Standards for Excellence certification program. Joan M. Breisch, the Council's second Executive Director, retired in 2009. The West Lawn headquarters was renamed the "Joan M. Breisch Adult Learning Center" in honor of her 21 years of service to the Literacy Council.
Joan's grandson, Ryan, was hired as the Council's third Executive Director, after serving the Council as the ESL Coordinator and Lead Instructor for 17 years. The Council made further changes to the new tutor orientations, providing orientations on an as-needed basis to provide immediate opportunities for individuals who wish to tutor. The Literacy Council expanded collaborations with the Berks County Juvenile Probation Office, the CAN Corporation of America, Wernersville State Hospital, the Reading Public Library, the Muhlenberg Community Library, St. Joseph Medical Center, Berks Technical Institute, and Epiphany Lutheran Church. The Literacy Council of Reading-Berks strives to continue its mission of providing services that increase the level of literacy in the community. Our vision, as it was in 1968, is still to close the book on illiteracy!