Our History


The Literacy Council of Reading-Berks had a humble beginning on October 1, 1968, when 13 women, were sponsored by the Church Women United, the Fellowship House of Reading, and the Reading-Berks Human Relations Council to address the adult literacy crisis in Berks County. Over the next 7 years, 15 tutors were trained, who met with their students in local churches.


In 1975, the Lutheran Church Women in Berks County organized the “Literacy Council of Reading-Berks” by electing officers, writing the first bylaws, forming an advisory board, and developing tutor training workshops and resource library. A year later, the Bank of Pennsylvania donated space at its Penn Square Branch for the first Council office, and the first paid staff member was hired. Over the next few years, more tutors were trained, for local NGOs like Connection Works. We also gre in serving the Indo-Chinese refugee and Hispanics communities. The annual budget grew from $263 in 1975 to $2,301 by 1978!


Thanks to The Berks County Commissioners funding, we hired a secretary. The first ESL class was created in partnership with Calvary UCC in Reading. The Council was incorporated as a non-profit organization in November 1980.  Jane Pflieger became our office manager in 1981, and later our first executive director, supporting 153 students and 107 tutors. Two years later, we had grown to 175 tutors, 205 students, with a $22k/year budget! In 1985 we became an agency partner of the United Way of Berks County and relocated to the Reading YMCA. Over the years, our volunteers grew to over 500. We published a citizenship manual thanks to a grant from the Janssen Foundation, and began offering citizenship classes twice a year. In 1987, our first grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Adult Division enabled us to expand staff, programs, and adding on two ESL conversation classes. In 1988, the Council purchased its own building on 519 Elm Street in Reading, and a year later Joan M. Breisch became our second Executive Director.


Additional ESL classes were created to meet the growing demand of the community. All classes began following guidelines issued by the United States Department of Education. The volunteer tutor training was streamlined to assist in training more volunteers.


In October 2000, the Literacy Council moved its headquarters to West Lawn, PA. We opened a computer lab, becoming a CareerLink Access Point for the community. More help was given to the workforce, including workers and employers, through the affiliation with the Pennsylvania Workforce Improvement Network. By 2004, the Council was awarded the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations Seal of Excellence for successfully completing the Standards for Excellence certification program. The Council’s budget increased to almost $300,000 a year. In 2009, Joan M. Breisch retired and our West Lawn headquarters was renamed the “Joan M. Breisch Adult Learning Center” in honor of her 21 years of service to the Literacy Council and instrumental impact on our relocation.


In January 2010, Ryan Breisch, Joan’s grandson, was appointed as the Council’s third Executive Director, after serving the Council as the ESL Coordinator and Lead Instructor for 17 years. In 2012, our first official GED preparation classes began. In 2014, the Council became an official GED testing facility. 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. It expanded collaborations with area businesses and organizations to bring ESL services where they are needed. Partnerships were formed with the Reading and Muhlenberg School Districts. The Literacy Council became home to Berks County’s Word of the Week Program.

2020s and Beyond

In 2022, the Literacy Council received its largest-ever federal grant from the United States Department of Homeland Security to fund our “Gateway to Citizenship” program in partnership with Aldea – the People’s Justice Center. Partnerships were formed with the Antietam, Governor Mifflin, and Wilson School Districts. The Council’s budget increased to $750,000 a year.

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When people come to us, they’re committed to making a change, and they’re ready to do the work. We have helped thousands of adults reach their goals.